Updating

December 21, 2014

21 December 2014 Updating

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I tidy up and update some software.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up trout for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Virna Lisi was an Italian actress who abandoned a promising Hollywood career to pursue more challenging roles in Europe

Virna Lisi

Virna Lisi Photo: GETTY

Virna Lisi, the Italian actress, who has died aged 78, enjoyed a brief burst of fame in Hollywood in the 1960s before decamping back to Europe, frustrated at being cast as what she saw as blonde eye-candy; nearly three decades later she won the best actress award at Cannes for her portrayal of the scheming Catherine de Medici in Patrice Chéreau’s costume epic Queen Margot (1994).

She was born Virna Lisa Pieralisi in Ancona on November 8 1936, the daughter of a marble exporter, and began appearing in the Italian cinema at the age of only 17, having been discovered by two Neapolitan producers ; she was soon also working extensively on both stage and television, and her beauty secured her a spot advertising a brand of toothpaste with the slogan: “con quella bocca può dire ciò che vuole” (with that mouth, she can say whatever she wants). She made several films in France, including La Tulipe Noire (Black Tulip, 1964), alongside Alain Delon, and before she was 30 she had come to the attention of Hollywood.

In 1965 she starred with Jack Lemmon and Terry-Thomas in the romantic comedy How to Murder Your Wife. Lemmon has the part of Stanley Ford, a well-off New York cartoonist who is leading a happy-go-lucky bachelor existence until, at a party, he witnesses the comely Virna Lisi bursting out of a large cake in a bikini. The next morning he wakes to find her in bed with him, and discovers that he has married her in a drunken stupor; the relationship goes downhill from there.

Virna Lisi later described the film as “very successful, but very light”, and she was no more complimentary (“trivial fluff”) about Not With My Wife, You Don’t (1966), in which she is an Italian nurse during the Korean War who falls in love with two United States Air Force pilots (Tony Curtis and George C Scott).

As for Assault on a Queen (1966), an action-adventure movie in which she co-starred with Frank Sinatra, in her judgment it was “not very good”.

She then turned down an offer to star in Barbarella (1968), later explaining: “They said, ‘You will look wonderful with wings and long silver hair.’ I said that I wanted to play something, a role, a real part.” The opportunity went to Jane Fonda, but 30 years later Virna Lisi claimed to have no regrets: “Maybe I’ve made some wrong choices in my career, but I don’t think that was one of them.”

Virna Lisi took the bold step of buying out her contract with United Artists and returning to Europe, making an enduring career in both film and television, principally in her native Italy. She did not entirely abandon English-language roles, for example co-starring with Anthony Quinn in Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969), in which an Italian wine-producing village conceals from the Germans a million bottles of wine in the aftermath of the fall of Mussolini .

Virna Lisi emerging from the cake in ‘How to Murder Your Wife’

In 1977 Virna Lisi won critical praise for her role as the sister of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, directed by Liliana Cavani, famous for drawing out superb performances from Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter (1974); and she gained further plaudits for her performance in Luigi Comencini’s Buon Natale… Buon Anno (1989).

Her most successful role could hardly have been further removed from Hollywood’s casting of her as a frivolous blonde. As Catherine de Medici in Queen Margot, set in Reformation France and based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, she forces her daughter Marguerite de Valois (Isabelle Adjani) to marry the Protestant Henry of Navarre (Daniel Auteuil) and helps to orchestrate the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants in 1572.

Although not everyone was enamoured of the film – The New York Times called it “chaotic, overheated and bizarrely anachronistic”, and likened Virna Lisi’s character to “Nosferatu with a wig” – the judges at Cannes voted her the year’s best actress. “I heard Clint Eastwood announce my name on the stage,” she later recalled. “It was a shock. My God! This was just a small part. My son, who was sitting next to me, whispered and told me not to cry. I got up there and cried as if I were a little starlet. It was very stupid, but, then, it had taken me 35 years to get there.”

Virna Lisi as Catherine de Medici in ‘Queen Margot’

It was a source of pride to her that her looks had nothing to do with the accolade: “It must have been difficult for [the film makers] to find anyone who was willing to look as ugly as this woman. I spent three hours in make-up every morning with them pinning things in my hair, to make me look ugly.” Peeling off the make-up and hair required another hour at the end of the day’s filming.

Virna Lisi’s later films include Follow Your Heart (1996), in which he plays an elderly woman dying of cancer. Her performance was rewarded with an Italian Golden Globe for best actress.

In 2002 she made Il più bel giorno della mia vita (The Best Day of My Life), appearing as a widowed grandmother living in her family’s crumbling villa in Rome.

Virna Lisi married, in 1960, Franco Pesci, an architect. He died in 2013, and she is survived by their son.

Virna Lisi, born November 8 1936, died December 18 2014

Guardian:

David Cameron and Nick Clegg
Partners in parliament: David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Photograph: Wpa Pool/Getty Images

In his condemnation of the Lib Dems for propping up “the most extremist rightwing government in my lifetime”, Phillip Wood (Letters) completely ignores the result of the last general election. Given the number of seats won, a Labour/Lib Dem coalition was impossible, and the only alternative to the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition was a minority Conservative government.

As this would have been an unstable situation, and in the light of the dire economic situation, David Cameron would almost certainly have called another election within a year or so (as Harold Wilson did in 1966 and 1974) and appealed to the electorate for a proper mandate to deal with the economic crisis. Given Wilson’s experience, particularly in 1966, this would most likely have resulted in a rightwing majority Tory government, enabling them to do whatever they wished, a much worse situation than now.

Junior partners in coalitions cannot call the tune, but at least the Lib Dems have managed to exert a restraining influence on the wilder fantasies of the Tories, delivering, for example, a rise in the income tax personal allowance, which before the election Cameron said was unaffordable. If you wish for the moon in politics you’ll have a very long wait. Politics is the “art of the possible” and the Lib Dems should be given credit for their achievements in government, not vilified for policies outside their control.

Ian Dickins

Wimborne, Dorset

Out of political proportion

Andrew Rawnsley rightly predicts that our voting system will prove unfit for purpose next May (“The parties prepare for a hung, drawn and quartered parliament”, Comment). Electoral Calculus predicts that the Ukip, Lib Dem and Nationalist parties will get a 17.17%, 8.19% and 4.14% share of the GB vote yet, perversely, win 0, 19 & 45 seats respectively. First past the post would appear to be not so much a non-proportional system as an inversely proportional one.

Peter Mendenhall

Nottingham

Man up, Barbara Ellen

Oh Barbara Ellen, do you not realise that it is because men have become so much more sensitive to the afflictions of others that we are articulate about our own conditions (“I’m so very sick. (Of you being ill!)”, Comment)? Moreover, your self-acknowledged callousness is surely due to fearfulness that if your man is ill there will be no more food on the table for you and your bairns. So get off your arse, you pitiful creature! Ah! You’re trapped in history. Poor dear. We, in our turn, feel guilty for being less than our expected strong, fit, Marlboro Country cousins, and have to justify ourselves.

Historically, we know that you and yours have had to retire early to bed with a headache.  We understand, Babs.

Charles  Hodgson

Newport, Shropshire

Electing to marry

Interesting exchange on whether 16-year-olds should be given the vote (The Debate, New Review). Bearing in mind that in Scotland the legal age for marriage is 16, are those opposed to extending the franchise seriously arguing that it’s OK to marry an MP but not to vote for one?

David Clark

Edinburgh

We’re no champagne Charlies

Daniel Boffey’s article (“Champagne wars in the Lords as peers say no to a cheaper vintage”) relied on inaccurate evidence from Sir Malcolm Jack to the House of Commons governance committee. Let me be categorical: no proposal to merge the catering services of the two Houses has been put to the House of Lords by the House of Commons. The joint champagne procurement I believe Sir Malcolm was referring to was over a decade ago. We have since established a joint House of Commons and Lords procurement service that is seeking even better value for money for the taxpayer.

Mr Boffey goes on to describe the 17,000 bottles of champagne bought by the House of Lords since 2010 without explaining that every one has been or will be sold at a profit, as is all alcohol sold in the House of Lords: 87% of the champagne sold in the Lords is sold in the gift shop to visitors or at revenue-generating banqueting events. Such activities have helped us reduce the cost of the catering service by 27% since 2007/08. This is a very different picture from the inaccurate one of members of the House of Lords getting five bottles each a year painted by Mr Boffey.

Lord Sewel

Chairman of Committees

House of Lords

 

Lohan behold, it’s Lindsay

Lindsay Lohan wants to make London her home (News). I am curious as to her immigration status. Presumably she doesn’t have right of entry as an EU citizen. I have nothing against her personally, but how is it she can come and go as she pleases? If she decides to apply for citizenship, will her past be investigated for illegal or undesirable behaviour? Could she be ejected because of her past record of drug taking and alcoholism? As an immigrant, she will have to be very careful where she settles so that she doesn’t upset Nigel Farage by overburdening the M4 corridor.

Robert Ashley

London SE9

Young man voting
A young man voting: compulsory voting would help to resolve hunger and poverty. Photograph: Alamy

With so much discussion about the plight of the poor (“It’s shameful that so many go hungry in our wealthy country”, leader), the Labour party needs to consider how to make the opinions of the poorest and the youngest in our society count.

The Audit of Political Engagement in 2010 by the Hansard Society showed for example that 69% of the AB social group but only 39% of the DE group were likely to vote and that 73% of ABs but only 38% of DEs showed an interest in politics.

Of equal concern is that only 27% of our 18-24 age group, compared with 70% of those over 70, are likely to vote, yet many of these under-24s are struggling to find good jobs. The most certain way of improving these percentages is to make voting compulsory, yet this option has received almost no discussion. If the Labour party intends to institute a constitutional commission, discussion of this issue should be given a high priority.

Dr Simon Harris

Wrexham

“The glue that once held us together and gave life to our communities is gone.” Your leader argues that this statement from Feeding Britain, the report from the all-party parliamentary group on hunger and food poverty, is wrong because we are still charitable. Margaret Thatcher believed that we needed the poor: how else could we show our charity? A twisted creed if ever there were one. The glue that should hold us together is a belief in a public realm, an inimical faith for the neoliberals who currently govern our sad state, which, as Will Hutton writes, they are intent on hugely reshaping (“Yes, we can reshape the state – if corporations pay more tax”, Comment).

John Airs

Liverpool

Will Hutton writes that “arguably the state is paying part of what should be workers’ wages”. There is no argument! Taxpayers are now paying an extra £900m in tax credits to ensure that the low paid survive. How ridiculous that this happens so that companies can maximise their profits, pay executives huge bonuses and collect “yet more cash for dividend distributions” to shareholders. Adding to the absurdity, companies in the UK get rewarded for their greed by this government, with corporation tax reduced to 21%, a full 19 points below the rate in the US.

Hutton is optimistic about the effects of the recent “Google tax”, but he did not mention George Osborne’s announcement on Northern Ireland. Despite the finance ministers of Germany, France and Italy stating that “the lack of tax harmonisation is one of the main causes allowing aggressive tax planning”, yet again we see, in John Cridland’s words, another example of Britain “going it alone” by apparently allowing Northern Ireland’s corporation tax to match the Republic’s at 12.5%.

Does not the “variety of tax regimes” in the “international system” play into the greedy hands of tax-avoiding companies and their advisers in the “big four” accounting firms? Is it not time for action against tax avoiders to be taken in concert with our EU colleagues, rather than in opposition to them? Sensible and similar rates of corporation tax would be a start.

Bernie Evans

Liverpool

William Keegan exposes a central lie in the coalition’s justification of its failed economic policy (“The deficit isn’t the real problem. The crisis is in productivity”, Business). To justify that lie, they peddle another also swallowed by the media: that a government is like a household because it cannot “max out its credit card”. But Osborne himself boasts about paying off First World War debt, so our government can support long-term indebtedness and it can also issue its own currency, neither of which a household can. So government and household financial constraints are very different.

Keegan is wrong though to claim we “needed austerity after the Second World War because the country was broke”. In fact, the authorities then focused on employment and economic expansion to reduce the debt. The approach was completely successful; within only two years, the debt was heading down and the wartime production and employment gains were preserved and extended through to the 1970s. They had “spent away” the debt.

David Murray

Wallington, Surrey

 

Independent:

DJ Taylor confesses to be ignorant of physics (“Don’t know much biology”, 14 December). This reminds me of a special University Challenge in which one of the teams was a group of MPs. There was a round of questions on chemistry in which the MPs failed to get a single correct answer and, at the end, they said, “You don’t expect us to know anything about chemistry, do you?” This scientific ignorance is a very British thing – you will find a much rounder concept of general knowledge in the Netherlands and Germany. What we need is better education, producing more rounded people who know as much about chemistry and physics as they do about Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart and the Hundred Years War.

Ian K Watson,

Carlisle, Cumbria

I agree with DJ Taylor that the ignorance displayed by educated people towards science is striking. But this mainly applies to arts and humanities graduates: it is far less common for students of science to display the same ignorance of music and literature. Science and art enrich our lives in different ways, and the national curriculum should require children to study them both equally. Britain would be so much better governed if it were run by well-rounded polymaths rather than the narrow band of PPE types we have at present.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor, Berkshire

John Rentoul (“The spirit of the Thirties lends Ed a withered hand”, 14 December) notes that Ed Balls has been more right on the economy over the past 10 years than George Osborne but that still might not win Labour the election. Why? Rentoul argues it is because Balls is bad at “selling” his analysis and policies. Labour can rarely expect a reasonable hearing from much of the media but that hasn’t stopped it winning elections. It has relied on an army of activists in the trade unions and in communities to get its points across in a far more direct and personal way. Labour still has some of that activist base, and far more of one than the other parties. However, it is diminished and in some areas hardly functions. That is a problem for Labour and more widely for democracy, though the rise in support for the Greens, nationalist parties and Ukip suggests that, as ever, nature abhors a vacuum.

Keith Flett

London N17

Your article states “More and more countries are now taking climate crisis seriously” (“Rich square up to poor at climate talks”, 14 December). It is worth recalling that world leaders all agreed to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change as long ago as 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio. Since then, annual emissions of carbon dioxide have increased by 60 per cent, the United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, Canada has withdrawn from the protocol, and China has become the largest emitter on the planet. In truth, the world is reneging on the promises made 22 years ago.

Robin Russell-Jones

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Simon Barnes (“Conservation begins at home”, 14 December) comments that if Prince William wants to be a conservationist then he must stop shooting. Unfortunately, this might not have the desired effect. Our research shows that well-managed shoots (including grouse moors) are a force for good. A study of an abandoned grouse moor recorded that, in less than 20 years, lapwing became extinct, golden plover declined from 10 birds to one and curlew declined by 79 per cent.

Andrew Gilruth

Director of communications, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

In last week’s issue, I have read Ellen E Jones commenting on Alan Titchmarsh and the royal mushrooms, and Jane Merrick referring to the same Titchmarshian discovery. In the Arts & Books supplement, Food for Thought was by Alan Titchmarsh. In the New Review, he’s there again, under Agenda Credo. If you give us such extensive exposure of anyone in future, can it please be someone more deserving than this ubiquitous and vapid self-publicist?

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire

Times:

It has been suggested that excessive intervention by MPs does the economy more harm than good Photograph: PA/PA Archive

‘Zombie’ parliaments frighten businesses less than active ones

IN HIS article “Tories rue dawn of ‘zombie’ parliament” (News, last week), Tim Shipman mistakenly equates a more active parliament with a good one. Most business people I know say hyperactive, hyper-interventionist parliaments tend to be the ones that do the most harm to investment, job creation and growth.

They also say that knowing how long a parliament will last allows them to plan better, given our politicians’ short-term decision making on things such as tax and expenditure.

Furthermore, for the millions of people disaffected by our electoral system, MPs spending more time in their constituencies trying to reconnect with the public may not be such a bad thing.

Five-year, fixed-term parliaments are certainly imperfect, especially for Westminster watchers, yet they might have a silver lining for the country as a whole.
Dr Adam Marshall, Executive Director, British Chambers of Commerce

NOT GOING TO THE BALL

The paucity of government bills in the last session of parliament gives backbenchers an opportunity to demand extra time to debate private member’s bills, their very own Cinderella of parliamentary business. But do they seize it?
Peter Saunders, Salisbury, Wiltshire

QUESTION TIME

Camilla Cavendish (“Stuck between Brand and Farage is a place no one wants to be”, Comment, last week) asks why our faith in politicians has sunk so low.

In my work I speak to tradesmen, and a universal and recurring theme is that no politician has asked them whether they wanted mass immigration, which has led to a reduction in wages and an increase in the cost of property, or multiculturalism, which has resulted in people choosing to follow their own laws — sharia, for instance — rather than those passed in parliament.

All this has produced a very toxic brew. It is the mainstream politicians who are responsible for the rise of Nigel Farage and Russell Brand.
Gerry Congdon, Bristol

Finding Fawlty

Labour’s leaked guidance to campaigners not to mention immigration during the run-up to the general election brought to mind“Don’t mention the war!” in Fawlty Towers. It seems a Basil Fawlty is lurking somewhere deep within the Labour ranks.

Bob MacDougall, Kippen, Stirlingshire

THE ONLY WAY IS UKIP

I have always voted Labour, and am a member of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the National Trust. The reason voters in my area (a mixture of working and middle classes) will vote Ukip is the population boom. The council has voted to allow 3,000 new properties near my home to accommodate the population from Birmingham, in the main fuelled by immigration.

This will cover most of the green space we enjoy, and HS2 will destroy two golf courses. Our deciduous forest mass is the lowest in Europe. Ukip is our only alternative and Farage speaks for a great proportion of the electorate in my community.
Paul Butler, Cannock, Staffordshire

Nothing new about budgetary aid misuse

THE massive misuse of European and British budgetary aid in Ghana reported by Bojan Pancevski is no surprise, since almost all UK financial aid now takes that form, or is disguised so as to be impossible to audit (“British aid bankrolls Ghana’s legion of ghost civil servants”, World News, last week).

The Department for International Development (DfID) is now giving almost £300m a year to Ethiopia, and many millions to Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya and numerous others. It is impossible, indeed dangerous, to audit budgetary aid; an assassination attempt on Malawi’s former budget director occurred last year after he planned to reveal corruption.

There have also been huge scandals over the way the governments of Uganda, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda and Nepal have misused this type of aid. And if anyone thinks that the £268m going to Pakistan reaches poor people, they must be very naive. The DfID is being taken to court over claims about misuse of aid in Ethiopia and it has been condemned by Amnesty International.

Barbara Castle, who in 1964 was put in charge of the newly formed Ministry of Overseas Development (for which I worked as director of economics), instructed us to phase out budgetary aid, as it undermined local effort, got diverted and was impossible to audit. We did this for all the big countries by 1972. However, it was reintroduced several decades later, as it was the only way aid targets could be met.

My guess is that about 50% of Britain’s £11bn aid programme is being misused or misdirected to multilateral agencies in order to meet the 0.7% aid target. Making this a legal target is incredibly irresponsible.

There is a strong moral case for providing help to developing countries primarily for family planning and education, but aid given in this way and on this scale is not. Castle must be turning in her grave.
Gordon Bridger, Guildford, Surrey

Baby-boomers could write book on austerity

IT IS difficult to describe what life was like for the baby-boomers in the 1950s and 1960s without sounding like Monty Python’s Four Yorkshireman sketch and no one wants to hear apparently well-off older people whingeing about the austerity and greyness of life then; how they scrimped and saved and for the most part did not go to university (“Golden years? We haven’t always had it so good”, Money, last week). Young people have far more money nowadays and they are not afraid to spend it, or go into debt to have what they want, despite warnings that there may be no pensions for them. “Live for the day” seems to be the mantra.
Carol Trueman, Harrogate, North Yorkshire

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT

We oldies may have had to jump through hoops to buy a house, but if we wanted to, we could. Most young people now cannot and, coupled with the uncertainty of the private rental market, this is a huge handicap that we did not suffer. Without a degree — achieved at great cost — the better jobs are few and hard to find, but in our day the work was plentiful. The additional freedom the young have today does appear to us to be gold-plated, whether it be sexual freedom, or acceptance of single motherhood, or state aid for parenthood.

But this overlooks the responsibility that comes with such freedom. The young of any age handle the responsibilities of additional freedom rather poorly, and I sometimes wonder whether we have handed them insurmountable problems masquerading as liberty.
John Simon, Stroud, Gloucestershire

YUMMY, MUMMY

I agree with Hunter Davies that we haven’t always had it so good; I had a mediocre education at secondary modern, for instance. Why, however, does he trot out the old chestnut about the food being terrible? My mother was a great cook and the food was delicious.
Cherry Green, Norwich

FOOD BANKS REPAYING WITH INTEREST

Those of us who donate to food banks will most probably have taken steps to confirm that the distribution of these items serves people who for a variety of reasons are trapped in poverty. Your balanced coverage of the issues (“Beans and blame pile up in food banks”, News, last week) is reassuring and based on the causes and effects of poverty.

In contrast, Jeremy Clarkson (“Can’t cook, won’t cook, want everything on a plate: it’s Generation Idle”, News Review, last week) uses bigotry and class prejudice in an attempt to amuse.
Dr Adrian Watkinson, Bristol

ANGER MANAGEMENT

Clarkson’s swipe at the poor, the charitable, Liberal Democrats, the government and the clergy reads like the script from a “Poshwolds” dinner party conversation and was not even funny in its attempt to be controversial. Angry young man turns into Victor Meldrew.
Philip Rushforth, Crowle, Worcestershire

SUFFICIENCY DRIVE

I applaud Clarkson. Good common sense. Make it obligatory for all the “hard done by” people in Britain to visit Asia to learn how to be self-sufficient.
Margaret Gumbrell, London SW18

LIFE AND DEATH DECISIONS

Dr Michael Irwin and I appreciate the advance publicity for our non-profit, multi-author book on assisted suicide, I’ll See Myself Out, Thank You (“I’ve helped 7 people to die, reveals doctor”, News, last week). However, helping people to die is what Dignitas does. Writing medical reports is a rather neutral activity. If I find that mental capacity is lacking or that not all acceptable treatments have been explored, Dignitas will not help them. It is an awesome privilege to be able to share the thoughts of individuals (and their families) contemplating the most irrevocable decision they will ever make. I hope eventually to publish an overview that may help other patients and professionals, especially where the diagnosis is dementia, which one of our contributors, Baroness Warnock, calls “the most intractable problem of all those we must face”.
Colin Brewer, London SE1

MIXED MESSAGE

The business secretary, Vince Cable, makes a valid demand for greater diversity in the boardroom but I would ask he begins with the cabinet — and, indeed, parliament — itself in both terms of racial and cultural origins and in female representation (“Cable demands end to all-white boardrooms”, News, last week).
Gordon Lilly, Tenterden, Kent

BOARD GAMES

Cable appears to wish to dictate to companies who should sit in their boardrooms. As an investor of modest means, I wish him to know that he should have no say in the matter. The appointment of a company’s board members is a matter for its shareholders and possibly its employees. I prefer to have experienced, educated and competent people making decisions on the use of my money. Whether they are male, female, white, black or brown is a matter of total indifference to me.
Ron Bullen, Chepstow, Monmouthshire

SMOKE SCREEN

In our small village most of our neighbours have wood-burning stoves (“Wood-fired stoves fuel city pollution”, News, last week). It has reached the point where if we open the front windows, our house fills up with smoke. The notion that these things are ecologically sound is a sick joke. It is time the government took action on this issue because the quality of our air now is far worse than it was 20 years ago.
Simon Gladdish, Swansea

COMBAT DUTY

The British Army has some of the best training teams in the world: it makes sense to deploy them in Iraq to teach forces to counter Isis, or Islamic State (“UK troops back in Iraq to halt Isis”, News, last week). Our army trained the soldiers of the British Raj, both India and Pakistan still use our methods and numerous heads of state attended Sandhurst. Sending teams to world troublespots ensures employment for the military, and is a lot cheaper and probably more effective than aircraft carriers.
Tim Deane, Tisbury, Wiltshire

ALL’S FAIR IN WAR

During 1939-1940 many people said that it would give no satisfaction to declare, after we had been invaded and conquered by the Nazis, “Ah, but we fought cleanly” (“The challenge of fighting a dirty war cleanly”, Editorial, last week). After the Blitz on London and the raids on other towns and cities, there was widespread support for the aerial bombing of German cities. We would fight fire with fire, to win. It was 70 years before it was revealed that the living quarters of German officer POWs were bugged. This certainly was not cricket.

John Carder, Anstruther, Fife

UNION DUES

Roman Catholic marriages are legally recognised only if the church is registered under the Marriage Act (1949) and a registrar is present at the ceremony (“Humanist weddings blocked by No 10”, News, last week). Mosques are similarly entitled to register under the act and, provided a registrar is present during the ceremony, the marriage will be legally recognised. In practice only about a third of Muslim marriages in Britain are legally registered but that is not because of any problem with the law but simply because very few mosques have chosen to register. That issue does need to be addressed by the government and Muslim organisations but it is certainly not the case that the law treats Muslim marriages unfairly or differently from other religions.
Neil Addison (barrister), New Bailey Chambers, Liverpool

Letters should arrive by midday on Thursday and include the full address and a daytime and an evening telephone number. Please quote date, section and page number. We may edit letters, which must be exclusive to The Sunday Times

Corrections and clarifications

The picture of the late Kirsty MacColl with the article “Ho, ho, ho! Merry royalties everybody” (News, last week) was inappropriate and we apologise for the choice.

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Birthdays

Martin Bayfield, rugby player, 48; Julie Delpy, actress, 45; Chris Evert, tennis player, 60; Jane Fonda, actress, 77; Samuel L Jackson, actor, 66; Jeffrey Katzenberg, film producer, 64; Tom Sturridge, actor, 29; Kiefer Sutherland, actor, 48; Jamie Theakston, radio and TV presenter, 43; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor, 70

Anniversaries

1620 the Pilgrim Fathers land at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts; 1913 British-born Arthur Wynne publishes the first crossword, in the New York World; 1937 Disney premieres Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; 1958 France elects Charles de Gaulle as president; 1988 a bomb explodes on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, killing 270

Telegraph:

£500m bailout to NHS as A&E on brink of collapse

Official figures show that waiting times at accident and emergency departments are at record levels Photo: PA

SIR – In 2002 there were up to 100 patients waiting on trolleys and beds in the A&E departments of the three acute NHS hospitals in the East Kent NHS Trust, some for up to a week. This state of affairs had been going on for many weeks, although my colleagues and I protested to the authorities about compromised patient welfare.

At the beginning of February 2002, because of a lack of Trust action, we drew public attention to these events. An extensive refurbishment was provided by the Government, which offered some improvement.

Twelve years have passed – surely enough time to produce the necessary long-term solution to such threats as winter pressure – and yet still patients are being told by the Trust not to go to hospital unless they are “seriously ill” or “it is a real emergency”.

This invites self diagnosis, which is often correct, but leaves plenty of room for mistakes and is not the sort of thing we should expect the public to undertake unaided, as people may come to harm.

This Trust and its officers are being put into an impossible position, trying to provide good care with inadequate resources. Patient welfare is still being compromised in 2014.

One hopes that the Government and the Department of Health will come up with a solution before another 12 years have elapsed.

Robert Heddle FRCS
Ickham, Kent

SIR – Much is made of long queues at A&E and NHS delays generally.

When I visited the hospital last week for an outpatient appointment, the digital display stated that 1,761 people had missed their outpatient appointment the previous week. One can only guess what the national figure is.

How many of those people ended up in A&E after failing to take up outpatient treatment? Failure to attend appointments exacerbates delays, quite apart from the lack of consideration it demonstrates towards other patients and staff.

How can we expect our NHS to operate efficiently if we treat it and our fellow patients with such little respect?

Ian Wells
Market Drayton, Shropshire

SIR – It is hardly surprising that there is a lack of qualified British nurses.

Many nurses are women and take a career break to raise children. To return to work, one must renew qualifications and update expertise.

As a highly qualified but unregistered nurse, I would love to be working again, but I find that the NHS has made little serious attempt to encourage me by making return-to-practice courses accessible and affordable.

Jo Hepper
Youlgrave, Derbyshire

A war of ideologies

A Pakistani police officer walks the hallway of the school (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

SIR – The Peshawar massacre of innocent children defies words for its barbarity and ruthlessness. Politicians across the world have rightly condemned the attack.

But their rhetoric is empty, their mindset locked into more futile war. Our leaders vow we will not be beaten by terrorism. And we will not be. Yet the harsh truth of history is that, unlike conventional wars, terrorism cannot be defeated either by bullets or bombs. This war must be waged with words, ideas, values and, yes, listening and dialogue, even with Isil and the Taliban, if peace is to be won. Our leaders, it seems, either don’t know how to do that or don’t have the courage to lead us there. The language of “an eye for an eye” just condemns us to future Peshawars.

For the sake of all children everywhere, we have to find another way, however imperfect and challenging that might be.

John Hallam
Ashford, Kent

Too few cooks

SIR – Allison Pearson quite rightly disparages the change from Domestic Science to Food Technology in our schools.

In a lifetime crammed with bad decisions, I look back on my choice of “DS” over metalwork as one of the few really good ones; it has brought me independence, nourishment and creative gratification and I continue to use the acquired skills every day, while never having had the remotest need to operate a milling machine (whatever that is).

Andrew G Holdridge
Doncaster, South Yorkshire

That’s not all folks

SIR – Serial dramas that lack a definitive ending have been with us for some time.

The Jewel in the Crown series is one example. We never quite knew whether Guy Perron and Sarah Layton would marry. Only in a fifth book written much later than the Raj Quartet is there a short reference to the fact that they did and had two children.

Evelyn Howson
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

On the map

SIR – Surely the shape of Britain (Letters, December 17) resembles John Tenniel’s depiction in Alice in Wonderland of the Duchess throwing the baby or pig.

Her wimple forms the north-east of Scotland, while the south-west is her face. Norfolk is the bustle, the Lleyn and St David’s peninsulas her arms, and Ireland her offspring with its arm or trotter out.

Paul Strong
Claxby, Lincolnshire

Uncharitable treatment

SIR – The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has published a report stating that, since 2007, it has reviewed all 52 of Scotland’s independent schools on its register and none had been removed for failing the charity test.

So, Scotland’s independent schools have passed an independent public benefit test to justify their charitable status. But apparently this is not good enough, for the OSCR goes on to warn these schools that they will face a “higher level of vigilance” in future. In fairness to the independent schools, it would be interesting to know whether the OSCR has seen fit to issue similar warnings to the other charities on its register who have passed its tests, and, if not, why not.

Doug Clark
Currie, Midlothian

Closing time

SIR – Allister Heath’s interesting analysis of the demise of the British pub lists a number of factors to explain this phenomenon, from tax regimes to regulators, politicians and the general fall in public demand for beer.

What he doesn’t mention is the quality of the beer served by the big brewers. The boom which the new micro brewers are now experiencing appears to demonstrate that beer quality could be the real problem.

George Healy
London N16

Women at the front

(The Canadian Press/Press Association Images)

SIR – It has taken a long time to select people for front-line military service based on ability, rather than gender.

Perhaps we can now do the same when selecting parliamentary candidates and boardroom members.

Roger J Arthur
Storrington, West Sussex

A Christmas card with no reference to Christ

SIR – While banks in continental Europe still send corporate Christmas cards mentioning Christmas, in Britain and America it has almost become an offence.

Working in banking, I am both amused and saddened to see so many firms wish each other “Happy Holidays”. The best I can hope for is the correct deployment of the apostrophe in “Season’s Greetings”.

Stephen Kiely
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – In answer to Terry Gorman (Letters, December 19), we receive two types of Christmas card – those addressed to me, my wife and children, and those also addressed to our Airedale terrier. We’ve had the Airedale longer than the children, and we prefer the latter type.

Mark Redhead
Oxford

SIR – My son sent me a Christmas card signed by the family plus dog, and the “spider who lives under the tele”.

Elizabeth Luders
Knebworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – If sent a Christmas card signed by a dog, I respond with a card that includes the message: “Say hi to the boy/girl.”

This usually ends the practice the following year. Too many people view their pets as children.

Simon Field
Midhurst, West Sussex

SIR – Overheard in a local shop where a couple were buying Christmas cards: “Do you sell personalised cards headed ‘To my ex-wife’?”

Nigel Turner
Worlingham, Suffolk

The diverse talents of Churchill’s budgie, Toby

A porcelain Toby jug from the collection of Lady Soames, Churchill’s daughter (Heathcliff O’Malley)

SIR – It was not only at meal times that Churchill’s budgie, Toby, left his mark.

This much-loved creature slept in a special cage in Churchill’s bedroom during his peace-time premiership in the Fifties. The cage was opened when ministers gathered for matutinal confabulations before the great man got up.

In his diary, Churchill’s private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne, gives an affectionate account of Toby “flying round the room, pecking at Cabinet papers, taking nips from the whisky and soda at the Prime Minister’s bedside and settling upon the domed head of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with the inevitable consequences”.

Rab Butler, the Conservative politician, came to these meetings with a special silk handkerchief which he used to mop up after Toby, murmuring: “The things I do for England”.

From his master Toby received only kisses, never rebukes.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

Mobile drone

SIR – Julian Gall writes (Letters, December 19) that he can’t get a signal for his mobile phone while on the train between Waterloo and Guildford, asking that this be addressed before initiating efforts to improve coverage in rural black spots.

I agree. This dead zone should be extended to cover the entire rail network in Britain so that I and my fellow travellers don’t have to listen to people bawling interminably into their devices.

I sympathise with Mr Gall’s difficulty in getting the Telegraph’s online service to play ball and I suggest that admirable alternative: the newspaper itself.

John Penketh
Hayling Island, Hampshire

A look ahead

SIR – I would be so pleased if everybody decided to refer to next year as “Twenty fifteen”.

David Spence
Northampton

It’s life, Jim. . .

SIR – Hopefully the little men on the Red Planet won’t be green. Think of the colour clash.

Peter Sumner
Ruan Minor, Cornwall

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Herbal Cannabis hidden in a suitcase at Dublin Airport

Herbal Cannabis hidden in a suitcase at Dublin Airport

Madam – As festive lights twinkle and Christmas approaches, most Irish people are looking forward to a happy and peaceful holiday.

But gangland doesn’t rest for Yuletide. Drug dealers are plying their poisonous filth on city streets and in towns and villages around the country, luring more and more young people into lives of addiction.

To pay for the habit, addicts may resort to crime, thus increasing the sum total of human misery in this country. A depressing scenario… but occasionally a little ray of light shines through the murky fog of drug-related crime: A truly inspirational example of the triumph of good over evil was reported in a recent edition of the ‘Kilkenny People’, which told how a man who had died from a drug overdose, left on his bedside locker a list for the gardai of the mobile phone numbers and addresses of the drug dealers who had been supplying him and other victims of drug abuse.

I say: Thank God for people like that, because it is never too late to do the right thing, free of the fear of drugs crime.

John Fitzgerald,

Callan,

Co Kilkenny

Editor’s remarkable work

Madam – The forthcoming  and deeply regrettable departure of the Sunday Independent Editor Anne Harris, after such a long and remarkable contribution, reminds me  of the magnificent Kurdish women among their  Peshmerga freedom fighters who are slowly routing the Isil jihadi savages.

She and they live by the slogan of that other great anti-fascist woman, Dolores Ibarrui, chair of the Spanish Cortes in 1936, in the face of the Franco Fascist rebels: “No Pasaran.” Or “They shall not pass.”

And those Harris relentlessly resisted, to the end, have all been the common enemy of ordinary decent Irish people, North and South, as of freedom-lovers around the world – the recent championing of Mairia Cahill was another agenda-defining stand which was unfettered by subservience to power, be it in the form of the masked terrorist, at home or abroad, or the equally masked wielders of equally unaccountable financial or media influence.

Her paper – which has truly become all our paper – deserves to not merely continue but thrive.

And this will only happen if it continues to fearlessly plough the same principled as well as never-boring furrow.

Tom Carew,

Ranelagh,

Dublin 6

We need brave leadership today

Madam – Surely it can’t be true? I hear that Anne Harris will no longer hold the reins as editor of the Sunday Independent?

But who is qualified to replace her? Will he or she have the stomach for the fight that undoubtedly lies ahead?

Anne Harris is most certainly a flag-bearer for middle Ireland and has few peers in the newspaper industry.

Her fearlessness can be gauged by her insistence on publishing material that often offends the sensibilities of bully-boys like Sinn Fein/IRA while simultaneously uncovering the activities of power brokers with deep pockets.

Is there someone out there who can give the same level of courageous leadership in this time of great uncertainty? I very much doubt it!

Niall Ginty,

Killester

Dublin 5

Bruton unfair to opposing views

Madam – John Bruton (Sunday Independent, 14 December) is not being fair to the Government or other public bodies in claiming that the passage of the Third Home Rule Bill has been inadequately commemorated.

The former Minister of State with responsibility for the decade of centenaries Jimmy Deenihan went across to the British Houses of Parliament for a special joint ceremony in 2012 to mark the centenary of the first of three required legislative passages of the Bill through the Commons. UCC held a special conference on the Bill and published a book on it.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs unveiled a County Wicklow World War I memorial at Woodenbridge on 18 September, the anniversary of John Redmond’s speech urging Irishmen to join up and fight wherever the front extended. Under the auspices of the Ceann Comhairle and the Committee for Procedures and Privileges, there is an examination in progress of ways to enhance the prominence and visibility of the older Irish parliamentary tradition in Leinster House, where perversely at present it is more visible in Westminster.

However, whether we regret it or not, Home Rule was stillborn, whether in the 32-county version put on the statute book, which could have represented a valuable historic compromise between unionism and nationalism, if unionists had not gone all out to resist it, or the scaled down and delayed 26-county version that was all that was likely to emerge after amending legislation following the end of the war.

Unpardonably, Southern Unionists represented in cabinet and the House of Lords vetoed an attempt to bring in Home Rule sooner in July 1916 after the Rising, despite it being agreed between Redmond and Carson.

Worse still, the attempted introduction of conscription in 1918 utterly contradicted the Redmondite contention that Ireland with Home Rule pending was on the cusp of freedom.

With regard to the request to honour equally those who sought to put down Irish independence, the mission statement of the Government’s expert advisory group of which I am a member says that the State cannot be expected to be neutral about its own existence.

As President Michael D. Higgins said in South Africa recently, inclusiveness and consideration for other sides does not require that we have to confer equality or moral equivalence on all different versions of the past.

Martin Mansergh,

Tipperary, Co Tipperary

Bruton view backed up by facts

Madam – Born into a staunch Fianna Fail family in the 1950’s and growing up during a period where civil war politics was still the norm, my loyalties at election time for the most part stayed with family tradition.

It is not therefore through rose-tinted glasses that I read John Bruton’s article on the events of 100 years ago.

I must congratulate the writer on grasping the nettle and laying it out as it was, and producing the facts to back up his view. Ridicule will follow no doubt; his is not the popular fairy tale that we were fed through our early education system.

Time is indeed a healer but it also clears away the fog of limited and narrow-minded views of what could be looked on as a tragic rather than glorious period in our history. The bravery cannot be questioned, the necessity of it all will however be considered more and more through time; history will I feel lean towards Bruton’s view.

Yes, of course, the victims should be remembered. All the victims.

TG Judge,

Convoy, Co Donegal.

Support for Prof Fanning’s stance

Madam – I concur with Dr. Ronan Fanning’s rejoinder to Mr. Bruton (Sunday Independent, 7 December) that while the Home Rule Act 1914 was passed, “it was simultaneously suspended” and unlikely to be implemented “in the form in which it was enacted”.

The advent of World War I in 1914 cancelled the probability of armed Ulster resistance to Home Rule; it was likely also that Pearse and the IRB would stage a rebellion against a Redmond-led government.

The zeitgeist of that era was a passion for war and related sacrifice of life; the imperative was of contentions on racial, linguistic and religious demarcations. The constitutional nationalism of John Redmond was a parallel road to war. There was an atavistic dichotomy between the participants in the Easter 1916. Rebellion and those who went to fight in World War I; it is difficult to comprehend how both may be commemorated as a duality.

The sincerity of all involved is not in doubt, but I opine that these men could not have anticipated the latter-day Ireland: conversely, this generation of Irish people would baulk at the horrendous waste of life in these wars. There is not a historical obligation on modern political parties to contrive a continuum with events of a hundred years ago: leave history to the historians! “Ownership” of Easter 1916 (or of World War I) by political parties is the anti-thesis of objective history.

Tom McDonald,

Enniscorthy,

Co Wexford

Divided parties must reconcile

Madam – May I welcome the excellent letter by Chris Shouldice (Sunday Independent, December 14) under the heading ‘1916 Could Bring A Reconciliation’.

I would say rather that 1916 must bring reconciliation in 2016 if not before.

There is, however, quite a lot to reconcile. We ought not to judge harshly those living through years too awful for most of us even to contemplate.

What would we have thought if in Dublin in 1916 trying to adjust to the loss of some 4,000 Irishmen wantonly slaughtered in the catastrophic British bungle of Gallipoli? A bungle that followed the bungle of Mons in 1914 and was to be followed by the epic bungle of the Somme on July 1, 1916.

These are bungles that devastated Ireland – north, south, east and west.

We ought to do better than 1966 when Nelson’s Column in O’Connell Street was blown up. I assume that the patriots of 1916 could have blown it up at their leisure at any time in the 1920s or 1930s. Why did they not do so? I assume out of respect for the Irish dead under an English commander at Trafalgar in October 1805. In the same way, as an Englishman, I have respect for the English who fought and died under an Irish commander in the Peninsular War (1808-14) and at Quatre Bras and Waterloo in June 1815.

We cannot alter the facts of history just to suit our present interests. We need to reconcile to one another all the fragmented parties that result from 1916. This is quite a task, but surely not an impossible one with good will strengthened by reflection and hindsight.

Gerald Morgan,

Trinity College,

Dublin 2

Tough decisions averted disaster

Madam – Regarding Eilis O’Hanlon’s description (Sunday Independent, 14 December) of Sinn Fein selling “fascism with a human face”.

The government of the day took on the banks’ debt, which came to €64bn. When the country was unable to bear this burden, the Troika went guarantor for the debt or provided funds which went to pay senior bondholders and to refinance one or more banks and perhaps funded the budget deficit above the 3pc target.

Then the Troika took control of running the country, and the government started to make interest payments on the €64 Bn debt and to get to a sustainable budget.

Much of the remainder of the country was also in negative equity and shareholders of banks stock lost their shirts.

This bailout option avoided a run on the banks, enabled the government to continue to pay running expenses of the country in a very recessionary economy, allowed it to continue over budget for five more years and kept the euro system stable, all of which would have been at risk with the burn the bondholders option.

So, if we had burned the bondholders, the government would not be paying interest on €64bn – but much of the country would still be in negative equity, bank shareholders would still be ‘shirtless’, and the government would have had to much more immediately live within its means.

The recession would have been even more traumatic and there would probably have been a bust-up with our EU partners, perhaps an exit from the Euro and perhaps a bust-up of the EU.

Peter Kinane, Dundrum, Co Tipperary

SF will bring us North divisions

Madam – I like to view Sinn Fein through the prism of human psychology. As a party spawned in a very dysfunctional society north of the border, Sinn Fein will seek to recreate these same divisive conditions in the Republic by setting one section of the electorate against the rest.

It needs to polarize the electorate or die an electoral death. This process has already begun. Similarly, Sinn Fein’s only fiscal experience to date has been the spending of generous British transfers from Westminster. With no such gravy train available in the Republic to disburse, it is very likely that Sinn Fein will simply decide to plunder the pockets of that section of the electorate irrevocably opposed to its policies to prop up its core vote supporters.

Sean Goulding,

Newtownsandes, Co Kerry

Sinead needs to read more history

Madam – In her article last week about her decision to join Sinn Fein, Sinead O’Connor mentions the word ‘Free State’ six times.

The Irish Free State was the name given to the state established in 1922 as a Dominion of the British Commonwealth of Nations, comprising the whole island of Ireland, though Northern Ireland exercised its right under the Treaty to remove itself from the newly-formed state. The Free State came to an end in 1937.

So what is the reason behind her historically erroneous and repetitive use of the term?

Miss O’Connor should realise that language reflects reality, so bearing this in mind perhaps she should read more history and be careful not to become a victim of a narrow sectarian nationalism masquerading as a patriotic republicanism.

Dr Stephen J Costello,

Ranelagh, Dublin 6

Why join Shinners right now, Sinead?

Madam – Sinead O’Connor had 210 months (17 years and seven months since non-violence was adopted) in which to join Sinn Fein. Sinead says the “younger members’ hands are clean”, but they refuse to describe dragging an Irish mother from screaming children and terminating her in a field, as murder. Given we in the Republic abolished capital punishment in 1963, this means no member of southern SF is clean.

MS O Dubda,

Dublin 6

Sinead and SF will help re-elect Enda

Madam – The Government parties need have no worries about the next general election. I think the new alliance between Sinead and Sinn Fein will do what Enda hasn’t managed to achieve yet – the reversal of the current trend in the polls.

It’s the political equivalent of a soccer team buying Balotelli.

Pat Burke Walsh,

Ballymoney, Co Wexford

Straight bulls plan march on the Dail

Madam – There is an extremely high degree of discontent among the heterosexual bovine population in Ireland, in particular among those about to be slaughtered – and plans are ahoof for a stampede on Dail Eireann in a frustrated attempt to gain equality with Benjy, the gay bull, who avoided the slaughterhouse simply because of his homosexuality. Be warned.

Patrick Murray,

Dundrum, Dublin 14

Another gift gone missing in the post

Madam – just like your writer last week, I recently sent a gift card for the University of Limerick Concert hall to my sister in Limerick. When the envelope arrived it was empty. The thief had even resealed the envelope! I rang An Post to report it, but very little was made of it. Not good enough. Surely we’re entitled to a reliable service from a body such as An Post.

Evelyn O’Brien,

Clonee, Dublin 15

Sunday Independent

Caroline and Nicky

December 20, 2014

20 December 2014 Caroline and Nicky

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I go to the tip, and Waitrose and see Caroline for my feet and Nicky for my hair,

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up gammon tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Mandy Rice-Davies – obituary

Mandy Rice-Davies was the star performer in the Profumo scandal and reinvented herself as a successful businesswoman

Mandy Rice-Davies, left, with her friend and flatmate Christine Keeler, on their way to the trial of Stephen Ward

Mandy Rice-Davies, left, with her friend and flatmate Christine Keeler, on their way to the trial of Stephen Ward Photo: AP

Mandy Rice-Davies, who has died aged 70, stole the show in 1963 at the height of the Profumo affair when she appeared as a witness in the court case involving Stephen Ward, the society osteopath who had introduced the Conservative Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, to Christine Keeler.

Mandy Rice-Davies’s role in the Profumo affair was, in fact, a fairly minor one. As friend and flatmate of Christine Keeler, who was sleeping alternately with Profumo and with the Soviet naval attaché Yevgeny Ivanov, she was called to give evidence when Ward was prosecuted on charges of living off immoral earnings (she was said to have been in a chain of call girls run by Ward, which included Christine Keeler).

Ward, as it transpired, committed suicide before sentence was passed, but the real star of the show was Mandy Rice-Davies. Her pert reply to counsel when told that another participant in the drama, Lord Astor, had denied having slept with her — “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” — entered the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and has been much plagiarised ever since.

While Keeler was the more beautiful of the two girls, Mandy was by a long chalk the more resilient and streetwise. With her heavily mascara’d eyes, pouting lips and bouffant fair hair piled and lacquered in place, she seemed to enjoy the limelight and emerged from the scandal a winner.

Her unerring instinct for the perfect sound bite, her saucy innuendoes and good head for business enabled her to build her sex-laden notoriety into a lucrative career. With what she described as a “natural aversion to unhappiness”, she emerged emotionally unscathed but financially better off from a chain of marriages and affairs, and became a novelist, actress and successful businesswoman.

She was born Marilyn Rice-Davies at Pontyates near Llanelli, Wales, on October 21 1944, the daughter of a former medical student turned police officer and finally technologist for Dunlop; her mother was a Welsh girl from the Rhondda Valley. Brought up in the prosperous Birmingham suburb of Solihull, as a child Mandy sang in the church choir and did paper rounds to raise money to feed her beloved Welsh mountain pony, Laddie.

It was while she was ministering to the needs of Laddie that she had her first sexual encounter — with a local “maniac” who exposed himself to her when she was riding her bicycle. Even at the tender age of 13 Mandy showed a gutsy instinct for self-preservation. “He didn’t touch me,” she recalled, “but the minute he stopped my bicycle I knew what he was after so I hit him with my bucket which had bran mash in it.”

As a child she had been inspired by the story of the medical missionary Albert Schweitzer and, aged 12, decided that she too wanted to become a missionary and “hug lepers”. Deciding after further research that this was not as attractive an occupation as she had imagined, when she left school aged 15 she took a job as a sales assistant in the Birmingham store Marshall & Snelgrove. She began modelling there and was “discovered”. She was cast in the film Make Mine Mink with Terry-Thomas, draped herself over a Mini at the Motor Show, then, aged 16, ran away to London.

Mandy Rice-Davies in 1964 (REX)

On her first day in London, armed with just £35, she answered an advertisement placed by Murray’s Cabaret Club, Soho, for dancers. It was there that she met Christine Keeler, and the two women briefly shared a flat together. Through Christine Keeler she met Stephen Ward (with whom she had an affair), and was soon circulating in smart London society, though, like Christine Keeler, she always denied being a prostitute. “We were just young girls in search of a good time,” she told an interviewer on Radio 4 last year. On another occasion she observed: “I was certainly game, but I wasn’t on it.”

Within her first year in the capital, she claimed to have been proposed to by the ageing Lord Dudley; she had an affair with the fraudster Emil Savundra; and, still aged 16, became the mistress of Peter Rachman, the notorious slum landlord. Rachman called her “Choochi”, she called him “Chich”, and they lived together for two years. Despite the affectionate nature of their relationship, he never told her he had a wife. This created difficulties after his death from a heart attack in 1962 when his wife, Audrey, reclaimed the Jaguar he had given his 16-year-old mistress.

In between these amorous encounters, with that irrepressible hope of better things to come that had brought her to London, Mandy Rice-Davies continued to pursue a career as a model and actress. She appeared in advertisements for Pepsodent, singing “You’ll wonder where the yellow went”, and for Pepsi, although she always refused to allow herself to be photographed in the nude on the ground that “You never know, you might become prime minister.”

After Rachman’s death, Mandy Rice-Davies moved back to Stephen Ward’s house in Wimpole Mews, where within weeks she had succumbed to the blandishments of Lord Astor, to whom she had been introduced by Ward some two years previously and who had paid the rent for the flat which she and Christine Keeler had shared in Comeragh Road.

When Stephen Ward was arrested and charged with living off immoral earnings, initially Mandy Rice-Davies refused to talk to the police. But once the trial got under way, she seemed rather to relish the publicity. Her sally to some American journalists “Call me Lady Hamilton” endeared her briefly to newspapers in three continents; and when she revealed that she had been the mistress of Peter Rachman, not to mention Lord Dudley, she became many a middle-aged man’s fantasy.

Mandy Rice-Davies outside the Old Bailey during Stephen Ward’s trial,1963 (GETTY)

After the trial ended, Mandy Rice-Davies accepted an invitation to be a cabaret singer in Germany, where she found solace with a new love (in 1966 she was cited in a divorce case by Baroness Cervello against her husband Baron Cervello), before moving to Spain and then to Israel where, aged just 21, she married Rafael Shaul, a former El Al steward. She learnt Hebrew and took six years of instruction before converting to Judaism.

Together, she and her new husband built up a chain of restaurants and opened two nightclubs, including Mandy’s, a fashionable establishment in Tel Aviv; she also acted in Israeli theatre. During the Six Day War she was rumoured to have worked as a volunteer for the Israeli Red Cross, but when the writer Auberon Waugh went to Israel to visit her, he discovered she had in fact been working in her nightclub at the time, although she was “happy to jump into nurse’s uniform and pose for photographs with the wounded soldiers”.

She and her husband parted company after the birth of their daughter, and Mandy Rice-Davies subsequently moved to Spain, though she retained a string of business interests in Israel and elsewhere. After her divorce, she had as lovers an Argentine consul, a rich Swiss businessman and an even richer Canadian. In 1978 she married a Frenchman, Jean-Charles Lefevre, a restaurant owner, but the marriage lasted less than a year and she returned to Britain.

In 1981 she played Maddy Gotobed in a touring production of Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen and appeared in the long-running West End production No Sex Please, We’re British. She was in A Bedful of Foreigners for 10 months and acted the part of Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet at the Ludlow Festival. In 2013 she was involved in the development of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward the Musical, in which she was played by Charlotte Blackledge.

Her film credits include Nana (1982), an X-rated piece of erotica based on Emile Zola’s book of the same name. She appeared on numerous television chat shows, took small parts in Heart of the Country and Chance in a Million (both BBC series) and made a guest appearance on Absolutely Fabulous.

In 1988 she married, thirdly, Ken Foreman, the chairman of Attwoods waste disposal group. She and her husband led a luxurious and peripatetic life between their houses in Virginia Water, Surrey, Miami and the Bahamas. An occasional holiday companion was Margaret Thatcher late in her life with her husband, Denis, who knew Foreman through business.

Mandy Rice-Davies’s autobiography, Mandy, was published in 1980. She also wrote several works of romantic fiction and cookery books.

Reflecting on her scandalous past in later life, she remarked: “I have never been sorry for myself. I’m of the existential school. I did it and that’s it.”

She is survived by her husband and her daughter, Dana.

Mandy Rice-Davies, born October 21 1944, died December 18 2014

Guardian:

The Christmas truce, 1914: German and British troops fraternising on the western front. Illustration
The Christmas truce, 1914: German and British troops fraternising on the western front. Illustration: Alamy

My grandfather, 2nd Lieut EF Eagar of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, wrote to his mother after spending Christmas 1914 in the front line at Fauquissart, near Lille (The truce in the trenches was real, but the football tales are a shot in the dark, 17 December): “It was bitterly cold, but bright and sunny – I have got my left big toe slightly frostbitten, but it’s going on all right now.

“The papers may say what they like about the Germans, but I know that our particular lot are good sportsmen and soldiers. On Christmas Eve we did not fire at all and early on Xmas morning about 6.30, a German with a loud voice came out in the dark and shouted, ‘A merry Xmas, we don’t fire’. Thus we had a truce which lasted two days and a night, and probably more lasting than an official truce would have been.

“We did not go near their trenches, but walked about at will, outside ours and, in many instances, in other parts of the line, large parties met half way and made friends. Their trust in us was wonderful, for they would have come into our trenches if we had let them. Three came towards my bit of trench, and as I did not want them to see too much of my wire entanglement, I got out and stopped them half way. They were all about my own age, very clean, warmly clad and cheerful looking.

“We shook hands and I carried on quite a long conversation in French with one of them. They gave me a lot of German newspapers which I am keeping as a souvenir. They had a huge concert in their trenches on Xmas night, and next day were to be seen wandering about their parapet while we were kept down below, but of course no one fired at them, and when we were relieved no one was firing in our part, though here and there one could hear them hard at it.”
Patrick Eagar
London

• In 1945, Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel chemistry prize for discovering uranium fission and opened the atomic age. In 1914, he was commanding a German machine gun platoon in Flanders. “I shall never forget the afternoon of that Christmas Eve,” he wrote in his 1970 book My Life. “At first there were only a few among us and the English who looked over the parapet of the trenches, which were about 50 metres apart. Then there were more and more, and before long all of the soldiers came out of the trenches. We fraternised. The English gave us their good cigarettes, and those among us who had candied fruit gave them some. We sang songs together, and for the night of 24/25 December the war stopped. All was quiet on the 25th too. No shot was fired.

“But in the course of the day the first orders to resume fire were given. We asked our company commander where the enemy was, since we could not see any and therefore did not know where to shoot. On 26 December, however, firing was resumed, on both sides of course, and the war went on.”

Hahn’s further adventures in the war are told in my book Great Scientists Wage the Great War.
William Van der Kloot
Horley, West Sussex

• It may not have been a matter of luck that there was a football around in the trenches on Christmas Day, 1914. Footballs being kicked towards enemy trenches were reported at Loos and, by a Colonel Alfred Irwin of the 8th East Surrey Regiment, at the Somme (From Forgotten Voices of the Great War by Max Arthur: “Captain Nevill … said that as he and his men were all equally ignorant of what their conduct would be when they got into action, he thought it might be helpful … if he could furnish each platoon with a football and allow them to kick it forward and follow it. I sanctioned the idea … I think myself, it did help them enormously, it took their minds off it.”

The ball used by Captain Nevill was marked “The Great European Cup – The Final – East Surreys v Bavarians”. Nevill was killed minutes into the attack.
John Beresford
Cambridge

• That a football match between British and German soldiers took place is corroborated by an excerpt from a letter to the Times published on 1 January 1915 (page 3). A major in the Royal Army Medical Corps wrote: “The —– Regiment actually had a football match with the Saxons, who beat them 3-2!!!” So it would appear that Robert Graves was not writing fiction and a football match did indeed take place. And he even got the score right.
Claude Scott
Richmond, Surrey

• Stephen Moss does not make mention of the German whose grandfather said there was no such truce, only a lull in the fighting for each side to bury their dead.
John Daramy
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

• It seems unlikely someone produced a match-grade football from the trenches on Christmas Day 100 years ago, so the games, such as they were, had an improvised character. Even so they are not something that has been introduced at a later date by those keen to mythologise the war. They were noted at the time. The Herald (weekly in wartime) on 2 January 1915 reported they had taken place and added that it was, “saddening to think that such soldiers are not in charge of the affairs of Europe instead of the diplomats and potentates”. This is unlikely to be the official sentiment when the 100th anniversary is marked in the days to come.
Keith Flett
London Socialist Historians Group

• Among the many references to works about the 1914 Christmas truce, I’m sorry to see no mention of US folksinger John McCutcheon’s wonderful and moving song Christmas in the Trenches. It goes: “The ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame, and on each end of the rifle we’re the same”.
Joe Locker
Surbiton, Surrey

• War profiteering used to be a crime. I realise the moral compass has been swinging wildly lately, but surely I can’t be alone in finding Sainsbury’s advertisement featuring the Christmas truce crass and insensitive? Sainsbury’s pursuit of profit in the name of young men who were ordered to kill and maim each other shortly after having enjoyed a friendly game of football leaves a very nasty taste in my mouth.

Susannah Everington

Bridport, Dorset

• Wednesday, dull and wet. Radio 4’s Midweek tells me Christmas carols have no religious origin. The Guardian tells me football at the 1914 Christmas truce was pretty much a myth. Next they’ll be telling me Father Christmas doesn’t exist.
Rupert Besley
Newport, Isle of Wight

• While the truce football match may be a myth, it is quite possible a match could be played in such muddy conditions, as those of us old enough to remember Derby’s Baseball Ground in the 70s can attest.
Michael Cunningham
Wolverhampton

Jim Murphy, new leader of the Scottish Labour Party. The trade union Unite will work with him, says
Jim Murphy, new leader of the Scottish Labour Party. The trade union Unite will work with him, says its general secretary. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

The recent attack on Unite (Editorial, 15 December) ought to be beneath your paper. It made incorrect accusations and in doing so exposed a fundamental lack of understanding of how trade unions function. Unite did not spend “enormous amounts of money” to “thwart” Jim Murphy. The money we spent to support Neil Findlay was used to communicate to Unite members, entirely in keeping with Labour party rules. The decision was in itself taken by Unite members – the working men and women of our regional committee who opted to back him – because that is how we operate, as a member-led, decision-making body. Far from being “out of touch” as you suggest, we are duty bound to listen to the day-to-day voice of our members and act upon their wishes.

How our individual members cast their vote is up to them, in the privacy of their own homes. They are not the lumpen electorate your writer considers them to be, as can be seen in the votes for the other two candidates. Six in 10 of our members chose to back Neil Findlay because they support his policies. Jim Murphy is now the Scottish Labour leader. Consistent with the values of our movement and the wishes of the electorate, Unite will work alongside him in the hope of winning back disillusioned Labour voters. I urge that the Guardian reflects upon the true nature of this vote and the genuine challenges ahead for Labour in Scotland, and in so doing resists the temptation to indulge what seems to be little more than the anti-union bias of some on its editorial team.
Len McCluskey
General secretary, Unite the union

• Your interesting two-part series, Britain on the brink and How the kingdom survived (17-18 December) had an unfortunately misleading subhead: The real story of the Scottish referendum. You explained very well the unity of the establishment in overcoming the threat to its existence but readers might have come away with the impression that it was only the SNP that stood against them. A grass-roots movement of remarkable proportions spread the Yes vote across the country. The Radical Independence Campaign, Hope over Fear, the National Collective, the Common Weal and others built one of the largest anti-austerity movements in Europe. For them it was not a campaign to support nationalism but a burning desire for social change and self-determination. This partly explains why 97% of Scots registered to vote – the highest level in Scotland or Britain since the introduction of universal suffrage – and turnout was 85%, compared with 65% at the 2010 general election.

And the campaign continues. For example, the post-referendum conference of the Radical Independence Campaign, held in Glasgow last month, attracted more than 7,000 requests for tickets. In the end only half that number could be accommodated but to do so the organisers had to hire extra venues to cater for meetings on an astonishing range of social and political topics. The conference agreed a policy of a social alternative to austerity and privatisation; a green sustainable economy; a modern republic for real democracy; and internationalism based on opposition to Nato and Trident.
Murray Armstrong
London

• Your account of the referendum campaign exposes the SNP’s obfuscation, now even more successful than ever in pulling the wool over the eyes of so many Scots. Three months on, Alex Salmond has obtained a safe seat to carry him to Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon coasts along promising referendum 2 and neither has yet been called upon to answer their false promises to the needy in Scotland. Horrid cliche, hence perfect for David Cameron and the SNP – be careful what you wish for.
Carolyn Kirton
Aberdeen

Glossop
Glossop, Derbyshire: birthplace of noted women. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Has anyone else noticed that Hilary Mantel, Eileen Cooper (first woman keeper of the Royal Academy) and the soon to be first woman bishop in the Church of England (Report, 18 December), the Rev Libby Lane, were all born in Glossop? I hope the town feels proud of its pioneering women.
Maggie Butcher
London

• The Interview has been pulled because of a terrorist threat (Report, 19 December): popcorn-eating surrender monkeys?
Graham Walsh
Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire

• At the age of 90 I celebrate the years and so, along with my Spanish friends, I choose to be regarded as “un jubilato” (Letters, 19 December).
Bernard Bloom
Manchester

david stoddart
David Stoddart: a larger than life character

The geographer, conservationist and coral atoll expert David Stoddart held anarchist beliefs. He also rediscovered the work, published in the second half of the 19th century, of an earlier geographer with an anarchist outlook, the Frenchman Elisée Reclus.

In the geography department at Cambridge University, Stoddart was a larger than life character. However, it was a running joke among undergraduates that we saw less of him than of other members of staff because of his idyllic-sounding research areas of distant tropical islands.

David Smith’s article about Sudan (Report, 8 December) is a good example of Guardian reporting as far as it goes. Its strength is the in-depth interviews with leading politicians, activists and UK embassy staff. But it neglects to mention the achievements and social progress the Sudanese government has realised.

Several achievements stand out. The government initiated a policy of empowering Sudanese women and mobilising their energies for development by allocating 25% of parliamentary seats to them. It has consolidated their right of equal pay for equal work and opened up employment in the judiciary, the civil service and foreign ministry. The deputy speaker of parliament is a woman, so are 80 judges, 45 diplomats, including 12 ambassadors, a lieutenant general in both the army and police, two cabinet ministers, six state ministers and three republican palace advisers. Currently, 45% of the civil service are women.

Furthermore, after the secession of the south, the Sudanese government embarked on a process of democratisation that culminated in the inclusive national dialogue which is now under way. Nineteen new universities were established as well as hundreds of secondary schools.

Motorways now link Port Sudan and Darfur to the rest of the country and are bound to accelerate development and modernisation. This is politically significant because years of US sanctions have devastated the transport infrastructure. In the past, railways played the main role in breaking down tribal barriers in central Sudan.

Thus through these new projects, the Sudan government addresses the complaints of distant areas that feel marginalised and propels development within those regions.
Khalid Al Mubarak
Media counsellor, Embassy of Sudan, London

 

 

Independent:

Your correspondents (19 December) rightly point out that religion played a part in the crazed thinking of the Sydney gunman. This does not mean that many Muslims do not want to live a decent, peaceful life, or that other types of believer do not do so either. The bad behaviour of some does not negate the good of others. The Taliban killers in Pakistan were fired by an extremism that is fed as much by politics and the frustration of the marginalised as it is by distorted ideas about Allah.

They, and we, are all human beings first, before they are any type of believer or unbeliever. If religion was not in their conceptual stew then something else would take its place.

Why not report on the good and peaceful things being done in the name of faith? These include food banks and soup runs, visiting the lonely and sick and, in the Muslim world, the wonderful initiative of Al-Azhar university in Cairo. In addition various religious leaders support dialogue and denounce the persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq. Branches of a reconciliation movement known as Family House are spreading through Egypt – why not report this?

Fr Kevin O’Donnell
Rottingdean, East Sussex

 

Dr Munjeb Farid al Qutob (letters, 17 December) ignores the Islamist undertones of the incident in Sydney. And Mohammed Samaana (letters, 18 December) claims that Muslims are always the oppressed, that everyone else is out to get them.

And here lies the core of the problem. Denial and an unwillingness to confront the issues that give a bad name to the great religion that is Islam will not do anything to reduce terrorism. Most practitioners of Islam lead a highly disciplined life based on strong values and love for humanity. Introspection and a mass movement led by religious leaders of every community is badly needed.

Arun Ratnam
Amersham,  Buckinghamshire

 

We have seen Christians as well as Muslims condone the killing of those who don’t accept their religious teachings. The crusades, Serbia, St Bartholomew’s eve, Northern Ireland and the Spanish Inquisition are just a few of the many instances when good Christians felt it their religious duty to wreak havoc on the rest.

Of course, much good has been carried out in the name of religion, but I can’t help thinking that this is not so much because religious people can be good, but rather because good people can  be religious.

D C Hooley
Newmarket, Suffolk

 

The vast majority of what Dr Munjed Farid’s Al Qutob’s says will be echoed by most readers. However, hidden away is “salvation”. I struggle to understand from what or for what I need to be saved. I live my life (without religious belief) trying to be as moral as I can. I know that I will die and have seen no evidence that I will continue to exist, in any conscious sense, beyond this. This view may be disconcerting to some but that is no reason to assert that a belief in a deity who can save me is a sensible way to live my life.

Roy Hicks
Bristol

 

Your correspondents link religion with terror. If one studies the Sermon on the Mount and the writings of Peter in the New Testament, it is clear that the founders of Christianity were pacificists. Why is it that so few Christians have followed their teaching? So many of our cathedrals and churches have chapels etc dedicated to the remembrance of military exploits.

Roger Atkinson
Lincoln

 

Not shouting,  just talking

Howard Jacobson (13 December) tells how staff in a shop accused him of shouting when he tried to get information about a Blackberry Passport. This has confirmed my view about what some people regard as shouting.

Before retirement I worked in a behaviour unit with secondary pupils. If I asked them to sit down and get their books out, in an assertive way but absolutely not shouting, some kids would kick off as they said I had “shouted” at them.

A friend, who is a librarian, had to talk to a student about the return of a very late book. No shouting, just telling her to return the short-loan book by the following day or she wouldn’t be allowed to borrow any more books. Later that day the mother of the student rang up to make a formal complaint as she said the librarian had shouted at her daughter and made her cry. No shouting, lots of witnesses, but being told what she didn’t want to hear equated to shouting.

I have thought for a long while that, as Jacobson says, “the surly, the disobliging and the downright rude believe they have a human right never to be admonished”. Also, some people do not understand that assertive clear speech is not shouting.

Christine Armstrong
Swanton Novers, Norfolk

 

Whenever my lovely, dulcet-toned mother-in-law admonishes her husband for bad behaviour such as drinking too much, or being rude in shops, he complains “Joan has been shouting at me”. She never has to raise her voice by so much as a decibel to be accused of this.

Veronica Willis
London SW10

 

Reading Howard Jacobson’s experience in the Vodafone shop I recalled my totally different experience when, aged 75, I purchased my Mac Book Air in the Apple shop. The staff were utterly polite, helpful, considerate, and I have to say completely wonderful.

Elspeth Allison
Fleckney, Leicestershire

 

I recently had my annual review with my pharmacist for the painkillers I take for arthritis. During the review I referred to the Cox-1, Cox-2, and Cox-3 systems. He threw a tantrum: “You are a patient. You should not know these things!” I told him I have a degree in biochemistry, among others. “You shouldn’t. Patients should do as they are told.” I have met this arrogant attitude from doctors of various sorts, now pharmacists are at it. I think I shall be changing pharmacy. Why are these so-called “professionals” quite so keen to keep knowledge as a privileged preserve?

David Critchard
Exeter

 

We lose libraries at our peril

It is said that knowledge is power, and one only has to think of the various “powers” that have tried to ban books in the past to acknowledge this fact (“The great British libary betrayal”, 18 December).

From the earliest times libraries have played a part in storing and disseminating books and latterly public libraries have had a huge role in this. Of course, some authors have thought of the library as the enemy, having the idea that they might sell more copies to the public if such institutions did not exist. However, in many cases, and certainly with more serious literature, the opposite is true. Since the establishment of the large municipal libraries, publishers have been able to rely on a certain number of sales to such institutions to make publication viable and economic. Sadly, this is probably no longer the case. Only last week while perusing the TLS I noticed a biography of Archbishop Pole in which I was interested. It was priced at £70, despite having only 300 or so pages; quite out of the reach of the ordinary reader.

Do I need to spell out any further how important the public library is to society in general and to the book trade in particular? We lose our public libraries at our peril.

Robert Senecal
London WC1

 

Another aspect of library provision worth mentioning (18 December) is their local history collections. Each of these is unique, and they are much valued and used by local and family historians. The latter category includes people all over the world, who enquire and sometimes make long journeys to consult material about their ancestors. They are an important part of our national heritage and must be preserved.

DW Budworth
London W4

 

Where do you stand on brand?

Reading “Russell Brand and an RBS banker: whose side are you on?” (18 December) and the letter that “Jo” wrote to Brand, I was perturbed by his references to Brand’s past misdemeanours committed while he had a drug problem. Like Brand, I have made many silly mistakes in my distant past, but unlike Brand mine were not made in the public eye, giving me ample opportunity to get sober, grow up and become a contributing member of society. Lucky me.

Mr Cold Lunch might also want to reflect on his language. Using the word “bikes” to refer to women, celebrity or otherwise, is beyond offensive.

Had a pupil submitted this to me as an essay I would have advised that all accusations regarding Brand’s income were unsubstantiated and required further research. And I would have suggested a cold lunch is not very important in the grand scheme of things.

Sandra Mills
Blackwood, S Lanarkshire

The next time Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage “a poundshop Enoch Powell”, as he did on Question Time, Farage should reply: “Then you are a 99p store Che Guevara.”

That should result in a temporary collapse of the polysyllabic party.

David Woosnam
Grimsby

Times:

Sir, President Obama’s move on Cuba is a canny foreign policy ploy. By increasing the cap on remittances, the US is dangling the carrot of prosperity, which may provide its best hope for regime change. And through the expansion of internet provision, Cubans will learn more about the outside world and may question the value of its regime, leading to popular demand for reform. In all this, US businesses stand to benefit.

As an aside, an interesting geopolitical question is what will become of an old Soviet spy base the Russians had hoped to reopen on the island, and for which a provisional agreement had been reached in July.
Daniel Rey

London SW17

Sir, It is salutary to remember in view of the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba, that in 1963 JFK said: “To some extent it is as though Batista was the incarnation of a number of sins on the part of the United States. Now we shall have to pay for those sins. In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.”

I wonder if the now inevitable return of American influence will really benefit the majority of the Cuban populace or if a small number of individuals will become very wealthy at their expense, thus allowing history to repeat itself.
Niall Milligan

Penzance, Cornwall

Sir, Cuba embodies the failure of US foreign policy (“Two close neighbours bound by mutual hatred for half a century”, Dec 17). More than 50 years of embargo has failed to motivate Cuba’s people to overthrow the communist leadership.Today, Cuba has one of the world’s most efficient education systems, universal literacy, health coverage and clean drinking water and sanitation. It places children and young people at the heart of its policies. It has very low infant mortality and high life expectancy. It has built partnerships and mutual respect among nations. The recent ebola outbreak in West Africa has affirmed Cuba’s noble principles of equity, social justice and solidarity with the needy everywhere; something Cuba has always done without asking for favours in return. It is time for the US to take notes.
Dr Munjed Farid al Qutob

London NW2

Sir, Michael Binyon’s (report, Dec 17) account of the Cuban Missile Crisis differs from Seymour Hersh’s carefully researched account in The Dark Side of Camelot. Hersh records that the placement of Soviet rockets on Cuba was in direct response to the US government’s placing of rockets along Turkey’s border with the Soviet Union. Nuclear war was averted by the US removal of their rockets from Turkey, after which the Soviet Union withdrew from Cuba.
David Lee
Kingston upon Thames

Sir, Michael Binyon is inaccurate in one key factor. JFK was urged by all his military advisers and many others to “Nuke Cuba”. However, JFK had the immense wisdom to ignore this advice and put a naval ring/blockade around the island. It was Khrushchev who backed down. To suggest that JFK’s actions were a “face saving act” is untrue.
Ian R Elliott

Whistable, Kent

Sir, Congratulations to President Obama for following the advice of Lord Palmerston (Prime Minister 1855-58 and 1859-65) in regard to America’s new relationship with Cuba. In 1848 Palmerston stated, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual.”
Peter Porter

Ashford, Kent

Sir, Peter Froggatt asks “Where is the next US-free holiday destination if Cuba falls?” (letter, Dec 19). How about North Korea? However, he may find that the attractions of choreographed massed parades pale beside Cuba’s music, tequila and cigars.
Kevin Cooper
Wargrave, Berks

Sir, Do I have to take down my Che Guevara poster now?
Peter Sergeant
Loughborough, Leics

Sir, After tramping the streets of Havana for four hours fruitlessly looking for a cup of coffee or indeed any other form of refreshment, my wife and I would have paid big money for anything McDonald’s had to offer. Ever since our trip we have advised friends intending to visit Cuba to wait until the Americans get in there and sort the place out.
Peter Hutchesson

London, W4

Sir, Reading “Concrete lessons that can be learnt from the Romans” (News, Dec 18) makes me wonder how “ivory tower” some universities are. In Europe, it has been common for many years to mix “fly ash” into cement. It reduces cost and improves some properties. Fly ash is the residue from coal-fired power stations. It is available by the millions of tonnes and is effectively free.

Decades ago, I worked on plans for burying nuclear waste in concrete. Our argument for its longevity was based on the nearby Roman wall. We developed a mix of Portland cement and fly ash that, once set, was chemically almost identical to Roman cement. This information was not secret and was published in detail in the 1980s.
Anthony J Foster, CEng
Peterlee, Co Durham

Sir, As Jim Hacker would say (letters, Dec 18) “I don’t want an inquiry, I want to know what happened”.
David Finnigan
Leatherhead, Surrey

Sir, Diz Williams is correct, the collective noun for geese in flight is a skein (letter, Dec 18).

However, if the geese are flying in a V formation, that is known as a wedge of geese.
Julian Rivers

Earls Barton, Northants

Sir, Psychology does indeed play a part in the consumption of brussel sprouts (“Science unlocks secret of perfect Christmas lunch”, Dec 19).

As a teacher in a girls’ school, I once explained to my 12-year-olds that one’s taste changed, so that a woman would like brussel sprouts but a girl would not. At the school Christmas lunch there was an unprecedented rush on brussel sprouts.
Carol Chambers-Workman

Horsham, W Sussex

Telegraph:

France is more euro-sceptic than Britain, survey shows

It has been suggested that Britain’s renegotiations in Brussels could trigger a referendum in France Photo: Reuters

SIR – Having ignored repeated warnings from European Union leaders that his plans to reform their pet project are unacceptable, David Cameron has now been given the plainest message yet that any attempt to revise the Lisbon Treaty will be vetoed by the French.

Since that would effectively block any meaningful change in our terms of EU membership, the Prime Minister appears to be left with only two options: to accept the status quo, or to join Ukip.

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

SIR – One of the reasons given by France for its opposition to Britain’s renegotiation is that a change in the EU treaty “might trigger a referendum in France”.

Has French democracy been corrupted so much by the malign influence of the EU that a referendum, in which the country’s citizens can have their say, is seen by their political rulers as a threat?

So much for liberté, égalité, and fraternité.

Terry Lloyd
Darley Abbey, Derbyshire

SIR – As the general election approaches, the electorate’s choices are bleaker than I can recall in any I have voted in over the past 50 years. Nor has there been a general election in that period where the leader of the Conservative Party presents as big a danger to the country as the present one.

The gap between David Cameron’s rhetoric and his achievements is nowhere more apparent than in the recent Scottish referendum, where he agreed to exclude the nearly one million Scottish-born people living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland from having a say on the continuance of the Union.

Their exclusion has allowed the SNP to claim that Scotland is still on a path to independence, forcing a panicking Prime Minister to offer Scotland goodies that will only serve to whet its appetite for another referendum. It also raises a series of other constitutional questions which serve to distract the Government from dealing with the far more serious issue of Britain’s financial and economic plight.

As Mr Cameron has already demonstrated his incompetence in negotiating the terms on which the Scottish referendum was held, can anyone believe he is capable of negotiating any significant changes to our current relationship with the European Union?

Chris Davies
Salford, Lancashire

SIR – Our nation is facing an identity crisis. A large number of Scots hate the English. The Union is already broken and the wranglings about the West Lothian question stem from a refusal to accept that fact.

Thus far, this Scottish hatred has not been reciprocated in England, but the mood is shifting.

Alan Richardson
Sockbridge, Cumbria

Arbitrary Euro arrest

SIR – Torquil Dick-Erikson says that standards of evidence in many European criminal justice systems are different from our own – “mere suspicion, based on clues, is enough”.

Last summer my husband, a teacher of Ancient Greek and Latin, and I were exploring the southern Peloponnese in Greece. Because someone had seen our hire car in the vicinity of a fire in the countryside, a European Arrest Warrant was issued in my husband’s name, as he was listed as the driver of the car. We had nothing to do with the fire.

Three months later, when returning to Britain from a weekend in Paris, my husband was arrested at border control. He was charged with arson and attempting to destroy property.

He spent five weeks in police custody or under house arrest in France before being extradited to Greece, where he endured 30 hours in frightening conditions before being freed by the investigative judge. The case has not yet been closed and the costs for lawyers, expenses and loss of earnings are considerable.

The same could happen to any British traveller in Europe who happens to be near the scene of a crime or an accident. None of the safeguards being proposed by the Home Office can prevent this happening and Britain is powerless to intervene.

The European Arrest Warrant is being wrongly used as a first resort without indictable evidence and without any preliminary requests for information.

Philippa Hainsworth
Hampton, Middlesex

Overdressed bishops

The Rev Libby Lane is to become the UK’s first female bishop (Eddie Mulholland/The Telegraph)

SIR – May I offer Libby Lane my warmest congratulations on her recent appointment.

Is it too much to hope that the presence of a woman in the House of Bishops might now lead to a 21st-century abandonment of all the fancy dress? Is anyone drawn to Christ by a bishop’s robe and mitre?

Jesus himself wore what ordinary people wore. In an increasingly secular age, what message do medieval robes convey to people in the street?

Daphne Clarke
Richmond, North Yorkshire

Stem is for girls, too

SIR – I was alarmed to learn that just one per cent of parents want their daughters to become engineers.

In Britain, 60 per cent of young people aspire to a career in business. But the jobs being created for tomorrow look different from today’s and will rely heavily on Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills.

In order for Britain to compete on the global stage, we need more young people to study Stem subjects. With so few girls considering a career in engineering in particular, we are missing out on half the potential workforce in this crucial sector, leaving Britain at risk of falling behind other leading economies.

Edwina Dunn
Chairman, Your Life campaign
London SW1

‘I’m on the train…’

SIR – It is good to read that mobile phone operators have agreed to end coverage blackspots in rural areas.

Before they do so, could they provide reliable coverage on the South West Trains line from Waterloo to Guildford? The signal always disappears south of Clapham Junction and south of Woking – hardly rural areas. With 150 trains in each direction on this line daily, there must be many commuters who would be pleased to be able to browse the Telegraph website without interruption.

Julian Gall
Godalming, Surrey

Missing ending

SIR – I disagree with Gerard O’Donovan’s critique of the open-ended conclusion of The Missing. Sadly, for some parents of missing children there is no closure. A happy ending would have trivialised the issue.

James Nesbitt, who played the boy’s father, captured perfectly the anguish and despair of parents in these circumstances.

Pauline Downes
Greatworth, Northamptonshire

Why a crazy (short) golf game just isn’t up to par

SIR – I cannot understand why anyone would want to introduce a shortened version of golf.

Barry Smith claims that other sports have been improved by condensing them into a shortened time span. Cricket introduced international 20/20 and rugby started sevens, but these abbreviated games are hardly the same as the real thing.

Maybe golf could introduce a magnificent putting green in a purpose-built stadium with all the instant thrills of the final stages of a game. Maybe snooker could be played with only three reds, just to get a move on.

If you want instant everything, as in cooking, then you lose the flavour. Sport is for players, not spectators.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

Celebrating the many signs of the festive season

Santa claws (AFP/Getty images)

SIR – So far I have been encouraged to buy the following “seasonal” items: an Isa, a night in a French hotel, electrical spares and a ferry crossing. Is there anything that doesn’t count as Christmassy?

Martin Moyes
Holt, Wiltshire

SIR – Jeremy Price can display his e-greetings by copying them onto a memory stick and displaying them on a photo viewer. He can retain the sender’s details in a folder on his email software, all ready to respond to.

Paul Siddall
Leeds

SIR – Friends of my parents who went to live in America used to send us a Christmas card each year, along with a letter containing their news. One year a card from the wife alone arrived – her husband had died suddenly, one son had divorced, another’s business had gone bust and a grandchild was sick. To my father’s delight, the card bore the message: “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy.”

Jan Gillies
Knaphill, Surrey

SIR – So far this season we have received two cards that contain not only the names of the senders, but also of their dogs. What is the correct way of responding?

Terry Gorman
Weaverham, Cheshire

SIR – Buying Christmas trees too big is a family tradition. My father used to buy a 16ft tree for a 14ft ceiling, which led to much sawing at the bottom and clipping at the top. It always fell over at least once, until the introduction of a hook in the ceiling and a fishing line. That’s progress.

William Mills
Coolham, West Sussex

A zoom with a view

SIR – On a recent visit to the city of Florence, I noticed street traders were selling “selfie sticks” – which can be attached to one’s smartphone – mainly to tourists from the Far East.

However, the tourists did not use them to take pictures of themselves, but to lift their camera phones high over the heads of the intervening throng in order to photograph the objects and locations their guides had mentioned.

It struck me as the ultimate madness to fly halfway around the world in order to take photographs of something you cannot see for yourself because too many taller people are in the way.

John Carter
Shortlands, Kent

Ungrateful Belgium

SIR – Sarah Rainey describes how the German invasion of Belgium prompted great sympathy from Britons. Surely this cannot be the same Belgium that refused to sell us ammunition during the Falklands war?

James B Sinclair
St Helier, Jersey

Pooling teeth

SIR – Gillian Roxburgh describes cleaning dentures as a student nurse. As a ward sister, my friend was horrified to find that, on instructing her student nurse to clean her patients’ dentures, the youngster went round the large ward and eventually presented my friend with a bowl full of false teeth.

Loris Goring
Brixham, Devon

Irish Times:

Sir, – It may come as news to Fintan O’Toole (“How gang of four runs the country”, Opinion & Analysis, December 16th) that myself and the Tánaiste disagree on certain matters. In fact, we have had many such exchanges in recent years on issues, she in the important capacity as Minister for Social Protection, the largest spending department in the State, and me in my role as Minister for Public Expenditure.

You would expect that to be the case. We also continue to work together as friends and colleagues for the recovery of our country and its economy from an unprecedented economic shock and in the name of our party, the Labour Party, of which both of us have been members all our adult lives.

Sometimes you can’t win. If Joan Burton and I agreed on every issue, all the time, we would be justly accused of being party automatons incapable of independent thought.

To see our respective views on the Economic Management Council (EMC) traduced by Fintan in justification of what is a highly unlikely conspiracy theory would be bizarre if it did not indicate how little one of Ireland’s most highly regarded commentators understands about cabinet government and Irish politics.

In my piece in the Sunday Business Post I set out a reasoned analysis on the rationale for the Economic Management Council, its origins in this Government and how it fits into the nexus of the interparty and Taoiseach/Finance relationships as they have evolved over time and responded to new circumstances, particularly those thrown up since 2011.

Fintan’s response, channelling Citizen Smith, is to complain that the EMC was set up when we should have devolved “power to the people”. Now I don’t know that that means, other than to say that Fintan now seems to have a problem with representative democracy in which people are elected to take decisions on behalf of the country.

The crisis facing the country at the time was considerable and I am satisfied that the EMC played some role in improving our national lot.

Fintan asks has the Cabinet taken different views on issues discussed at EMC, and the answer is yes. He objects to advisers attending meetings and when I point out that is not always the case, he has a problem with that too. He derides some of the most important officials of the State. His cited example of the EMC usurping Government decision-making in relation to an education budget proposal some years ago defeats his argument. This decision was taken collectively by the Government because, as he points out earlier in his piece, constitutionally decisions are not the sole preserve of any line Minister.

I conclude that Fintan is determined not to afford this Government any credit for its work over the last four years. He complains that he does not “rule” but if my memory serves me correctly he refused to stand for election when the country truly faced a crisis in 2011. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN HOWLIN,

Minister for Public

Expenditure and Reform,

Government Buildings,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Attempts to represent recent Broadcasting Compliance Committee rulings on two radio discussions about the same-sex marriage referendum as somehow unclear are misleading.

If broadcaster Will Faulkner is correct that there is some anxiety about these decisions among broadcasters (“Lack of clarity on broadcast treatment of same-sex marriage debate”, Opinion & Analysis, December 19th), then they ought to relax.

The law is simple and not new. It requires every broadcaster to ensure that “the broadcast treatment of current affairs, including matters which are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate, is fair to all interests concerned and that the broadcast matter is presented in an objective and impartial manner and without any expression of his or her own views”.

Some broadcasters have been campaigning for years to change the law. The National Union of Journalists and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties should think twice before lending their weight to that campaign. The law protects the people whom they represent.

A combination of broadcasters who wanted to make more emotive programmes, and big business that correctly anticipated deregulated broadcasting as being more favourable to its interests, campaigned successfully to have the US abandon its “fairness doctrine”. Fox News is one outcome. Shock-jocks another.

The Broadcasting Compliance Committee, of which I am a member, applies a legal requirement that is more than 50 years old in both Ireland and Britain.

It means, for example, that a general election debate will not consist entirely of Fine Gael supporters.

Una Mullally (“Who does the BAI ruling on marriage equality serve?”, Opinion & Analysis, December 8th) thinks it “unfair” for a gay journalist to have to sit in a studio with someone who opposes gay marriage. On the contrary, when the forthcoming referendum is being discussed it would be unfair if opponents of gay marriage were given unopposed access to the airwaves.

The decisions of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, all available online, show that we have not “zoomed in on” the gay marriage referendum, as Una claims. A small proportion of all complaints from the public relate to it, and most of those have been rejected (no doubt because most professional broadcasters are well aware of what is required).

Down the years all political parties have reasserted their support for fairness in broadcasting. The alternative is, presumably, unfairness. – Yours, etc,

Prof COLUM KENNY,

School of Communications,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – Rob Wright’s evidence (“Department gave ‘very little written advice’ at height of crash to the banking inquiry”, December 18th) suggests two things – there was a Civil Service phobia about freedom of information, and a high degree of incompetence at higher levels of the Civil Service (especially in the Department of Finance).

Is it unreasonable of us to expect our Civil Service to be as professional as that of Canada or Australia?

Can’t they just write it down, or do they have something to hide? – Yours, etc,

RONAN BRADY,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – I would like to thank the Finnish government bank official Peter Nyberg for summing up the banking disaster in Ireland (“Peter Nyberg tells banking inquiry soft landing was ‘quite unlikely’”, December 18th). He has saved the Irish taxpayer a fortune.

Could the committee now please disband, claim their expenses and get back to helping us recover instead of doing Perry Mason impressions? – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL ROONEY,

Knocknacarra,

Galway.

Sir, – The temperate letter from former senator Dr Mary Henry (December 19th) reminds us all of the folly of making complex decisions in turbulent political times. And those were extremely turbulent years – 1981-82 – when we had three elections in two years. The question of abortion unfortunately became a political football and led to the folly of a majority of the Dáil endorsing wording which was put forward by Fianna Fáil. The then attorney general Peter Sutherland solemnly advised that the wording was dangerously ambiguous. Therefore, the government then put forward its own wording, “Nothing in this Constitution shall be invoked to invalidate or to deprive of force or effect any provision of the law on the grounds that it prohibits abortion”. This was defeated in the Dáil.

Those of us in government campaigning against the Fianna Fail wording met great hostility and well-organised hate-mail campaigns. However, the referendum was carried with a turnout of 50 per cent and a two-to-one majority.

In her letter, Dr Henry has detailed the sad and sorry consequences for Irish women. Some 31 years later, I believe the eighth amendment would be deleted from the Constitution if a referendum were held. But we know that referendums in Ireland, for a variety of reasons, are unpredictable. And even more so if held in the heat of election campaigns. Therefore, surely the responsible way forward is for all the parties to set out exactly where they stand. If – as I suspect – all of the main political groups acknowledge that the eighth amendment should be deleted, it would not be a political flashpoint and could be dealt with calmly – after the next election. – Yours, etc,

GEMMA HUSSEY,

Dublin 4 .

Sir, – The real obstacle to the creation in Ireland of long-distance walking and cycling trails along the continental model lies in the fact that most of our national and local politicians have scant interest in either activity. At best, they are disinterested observers. At worst, they regard the outdoors as a branch of hippiedom. They could not possibly have any understanding or appreciation of the economic benefits that flow to the providers of such trails and the advantages to the physical and mental health of the users. – Yours, etc,

JUSTIN MacCARTHY,

Sandymount,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – As the TD who brought the Access to the Countryside Bill to the floor of Dáil Éireann in June 2013, I write to support the remarks in your editorial (December 16th).

You are absolutely correct to say we need much better access to the countryside for walkers. We get at least 750,000 tourists each year who want to walk in our beautiful countryside. They, and Irish walkers, are far too restricted in terms of where they can walk.

Some progress on a voluntary basis has been made but we need some legislation to progress the situation so that Ireland can compete with the likes of Scotland and Wales.

In addition to being good for people’s health, walking trails actually generate considerable income for the local economy. The Fife Coastal Path in Scotland generates something like £28 million annually with 500-600 jobs created.

In the new year, I will put as much pressure as I can on the Oireachtas environment committee to progress my legislation. Any support I get from the wider public on this issue would be helpful. – Yours, etc,

ROBERT DOWDS, TD

Leinster House,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – I found Sean McCann’s (December 19th) opening line “Obviously we need a proper network of hiking trails on publicly owned land’’ a bit ironic.

He decries the perceived suburbanite expectation that farm land should be open to access by ramblers.

At the same time he makes no reference to the fact that frequently the most vociferous opponents of opening up as walkways public assets such as redundant railway lines are the people who own land abutting them.

Generally these people are farmers who can’t seem to differentiate between their own land and public land adjoining their property.

This failure to differentiate has on occasions extended to squatting on public property and suing for adverse possession. – Yours, etc,

TADHG Ó FOGHLU,

Vincentia,

Australia.

Sir, – It is clear from all the justifiable outrage generated by the Áras Attracta scandal that the main issue in relation to monitoring of services for the most vulnerable people receiving care is one of oversight.

Good management has an important role, as has the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), but the most important way to ensure that good standards of care are maintained is objective monitoring by advocates. These can be voluntary or paid but must be independent of the service provider and user.

This would ensure that independent individuals are overseeing the care provided and families would feel free to voice concerns to their relative’s advocate without the worry that their loved one might suffer as a result.

This level of oversight could possibly be provided by the HSE’s National Advocacy Unit, if this were extended to all service areas, particularly those used by vulnerable people.

Another way is to open all these service areas to Garda-vetted volunteers, who would provide much-needed social interaction and stimulation, while at the same time observing the standard of care provided by staff.

The model that comes to mind is one that is used in the Royal Hospital, in Donnybrook, Dublin. This hospital has over 100 volunteers that are coordinated by a designated member of staff.

As one of these volunteers, I have observed very good standards of care in the Royal, but would still feel free to comment or intervene if I saw a situation where this was not the case. – Yours, etc,

MAUREEN FALLON,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Many years ago I received a Christmas card from my local TD, a man who would in due course become a government minister. My immediate reaction on receiving it was, why not send one to him? So I sent one. Within a week I received no fewer than four more identical cards, two of them signed by the TD himself, a third with his wife’s name beside his, and the fourth with no signature, presumably sent by his secretary. And so I finished up with five. And then I gave up. – Yours, etc,

CECIL MILLS,

Monkstown,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – The amount of personal data demanded by the National Prize Bonds Company in its new application form for gift prize bonds is amazing – including the dreaded PPS number. This distinctly unfestive form has all the characteristics of a mini-CAB investigation. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK HASTINGS,

Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

The upsetting images from Aras Attracta - such as Mary Maloney being force-fed - showed much work still needs to be done on patients' rights.

The upsetting images from Aras Attracta – such as Mary Maloney being force-fed – showed much work still needs to be done on patients’ rights.

I was saddened but not surprised at the alleged abusive behaviour of some of the carers in Bungalow 3 at Aras Attracta.

I am, however, shocked at the failure of commentators and indeed psychologists to understand the dynamic behind abuse in the wider area.

Many have proposed complex reasons for the ill-treatment of vulnerable people.

But the reason for abuse, in general, whether in the home or in organisations, is simple. The abusive personality is typically fuelled by an instinct for power and control.

Power itself does not corrupt, but abusive or narcissistic people strive for power, and exert it over others physically, verbally, psychologically, financially or sexually.

The controlling tendency is wired in the brain from about the age of 13 onwards, and bullies will never change without significant professional help, which only a minority seek because they have an inbuilt sense of entitlement, black and white thinking, and a blaming mind set, to name but a few characteristics.

Despite the urge to control and hurt they could, however, choose not to do so.

Non-abusive people will never hurt another person, even if they are in bad cultures, but unfortunately in environments of power they may tend to stand back and not interfere, because of the fear of what might happen to them. There is plenty of evidence of this. They may become involved in abusive behaviour in authoritarian states such as Nazi Germany, to save their own lives, but in nursing and care homes this is not relevant.

Unfortunately, it is estimated that 25pc to 30pc of people are controlling and the abuse they perpetrate is done in secret.

To solve this problem you need dedicated non-abusive supervisors, constantly on the alert to stamp out abuse.

Unfortunately abusive people are extremely charming and can easily fool interviewers, so that some bosses are bullies who make life miserable for others.

Dr Jim O’ Shea, Thurles, Co Tipperary

 

Spirit of the Christmas Truce

This year the Great War was publicly remembered across the world with very respectful solemnity. This was a war that displayed a capacity to deal out death and destruction with a ferocity and efficiency that had never been seen before on the face of the earth up to that time.

However, on the first Christmas Eve of the war, amid the horror and madness of the trenches, something amazing happened. Bitter enemies who had spent months trying to kill each other were touched by something deep within their being. They laid down their arms, walked into No Man’s Land, wished each other “Happy Christmas” and acknowledged the sacredness of that night by jointly singing ‘Stille Nacht/Silent Night’.

My wish this Christmas is that special something might also move the President and the Taoiseach to replicate that gesture and pay homage to the fallen by wishing the citizens of our country “Happy Christmas” also.

If for some reason of political correctness known to themselves and/or their advisers they decide not to do this, could I respectfully suggest they say nothing at all. Instead could I suggest that they keep their greetings and felicitations and utter them on New Year’s Day, which is World Peace Day. In that way no person or group could be possibly offended, as that day would be far more appropriate and inclusive for people of all cultures and religions, and none.

Aidan Coburn, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow

 

Nationalism is normal

Kate Casey (Irish Independent, November 29) defines nations as merely “imagined communities” and nationalism as “negative”. Instead, she backs “only big units”, e.g. the EU, with an “ideology of liberty”. Yet liberty is the lifeblood of democratic self-determination and national identity. Hence nationalism remains natural and normal.

Alas, the views your correspondent advances reflect historical revisionism and imperialism. Did she never hear of the United Irishmen inspired by the universal ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity”? In Irish history, “Wolfe Tone is the name and Wolfe Tone is the man”.

Anthony Barnwell, Dublin 9

 

Pearse deceived his own men

With reference to Rory O’ Callaghan (Letters, Irish Independent December 15), there were two general elections held in 1910 and Padraig Pearse did not contest either one.

In fact, he was not loyal to his leader Eoin MacNeill – he said that MacNeill had resigned and appointed himself to be head of the army and President of the Republic as well. The people showed their disapproval of the Rising in their reaction.

As regards Britain being imperialist after World War I, it gave away more territory than the whole of Europe in the “Statute of Westminster 1931″. Britain gave effective independence to its Dominions: Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and the Irish Free State. It was a change from the love of power as in the Empire to the power of love freely given within the Commonwealth. World War I was fought by the Allies, in the words of US President Woodrow Wilson, to make the world a safe place for democracy and to defend human rights.

Pearse deceived his own followers, the ‘Castle Document’ was a forgery, Eoin MacNeill did not resign and he called off the Rising. Pearse told his followers that the Germans had landed and it was only a matter of holding Dublin until they arrived.

Kate Casey, Barrington Street, Limerick

 

Out for the Count

‘Count Curly Wee’ in the Irish Independent must be the longest running feature of any daily newspaper. My father, a man of the land who loved wild life and was an avid reader, never missed out on ‘Curly Wee and Gussie Goose’. I can still recall, as a child, that wry smile on his face as he flicked from the cartoon to the racing page.

I believe my grandfather was also an ardent follower of the feature. Now I have become the third generation of my family to become a fan of the cartoon. Over the past two years, I haven’t gone a day without reading ‘Count Curly’.

The classy, clear pictures and free-flowing descriptive verse is hard to resist. Count Curly, the pig, is a proper gentleman and a true Samaritan to all in animal, fur and feather-land – regardless their predicament or needs. What a pity the series could not continue through the weekend – it would be sure to boost circulation of the ‘Sunday Independent’.

Generally a newspaper has a lot of dry and depressing stuff. Turn to the ‘Count Curly Wee’ gem on page 52 of Irish Independent and in two minutes you will be cracking that smile a day that makes the newspaper well worth its cost.

James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary

 

A sad week for world’s children

What a sad week it was for the children of the world. The atrocity in Pakistan was heartbreaking and to learn now of the deaths of eight children in Australia, especially at this time of the year, seems all the more incomprehensible. No doubt they are all at peace,

All of us must understand that we have a duty to cherish and protect the little ones.

But we must not forget the bigger ones too whose frailties and weakness go unnoticed in the whirl of every day. We all need minding – if Christmas means anything around the world, behind all the tinsel and fairy-lights, the message has to be that we could do a better job of it.

M O’Brien, Sandycove, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

Astrid

December 19, 2014

19 December 2014 Astrid

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. Astrid comes to call.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up nothing tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Ian McLagan – obituary

Ian McLagan was a diminutive keyboard player and Mod ‘clothes horse’ who recorded a string of hits with the Small Faces

Ian McLagan, keyboard player with the Small Faces

Ian McLagan, keyboard player with the Small Faces Photo: REX

Ian McLagan, who has died aged 69, was the keyboards player with the Small Faces, and later the Faces, when they were among the most successful British rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s; he went on to become a well-known sideman alongside artists such as the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg.

Ian Patrick McLagan was born in Hounslow, London, on May 12 1945 . As a child his Irish grandmother taught him to play the concertina, and the skiffle craze inspired him to learn guitar. The arrival of rock and roll determined his musical future and he formed a band called the Cherokees, who later became the Muleskinners. After being expelled from art school for lack of attendance (“I was thinking music, music, music!”), Ian backed many visiting blues singers as a rhythm guitarist before changing to the Hammond organ. He joined Boz and the Boz People – who paid him £5 a week as organist – but quit when the band’s van kept breaking down during a Scottish tour. On his return to London he auditioned for the Small Faces, a London band who had scored a No 15 hit with their debut single and were about to sack their keyboard player.

McLagan proved a perfect fit: an instinctively brilliant musician, he was also small of stature and a Mod “clothes horse”. His first single with the Small Faces, Sha-La-La-La-Lee, reached No 3 in the UK charts in February 1966. The band went on to score nine more UK hits over the next two years and release the pioneering concept album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake . Hits such as Itchycoo Park and All or Nothing would inspire punk and Britpop bands across the decades. Tensions in the band caused the vocalist Steve Marriott to leave on New Year’s Eve 1968, and the remaining trio drafted in Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart, both of whom had been working with Jeff Beck.

Now called the Faces – Wood and Stewart being of average height – the group signed to Warner Brothers and almost immediately achieved success in America; British success quickly followed. The band was known for their raucous mix of rock and soul, flamboyant fashion sense and joyous hedonism. In concert the band kicked footballs into the audience and had a bar and bartender onstage. Their extravagant parties and model girlfriends marked them as the embodiment of rock star glamour.

The Faces’ 1971 album A Nod Is as Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse is considered their best; it reached No 2 in the UK charts and gave them their biggest hit with Stay With Me. But Stewart’s parallel solo career soon outstripped that of the group, and in 1973 the bassist Ronnie Lane quit the band. The Faces staggered on until 1975, when Wood joined the Rolling Stones.

McLagan joined a reformed Small Faces for two unrewarding albums, then, in 1978, moved to Los Angeles, complaining that with the advent of punk rock no one in Britain wanted a Hammond organ player. He formed Ian McLagan’s Bump Band, released two solo albums, then began playing with Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. In 1984 Bob Dylan invited him to join his band for a European tour, and McLagan soon found himself in demand with leading British and American artists. In 1994 he went to live in Austin, Texas, where he became a stalwart of the city’s burgeoning music scene.

In 2000 he published a bawdy memoir, All the Rage: A Riotous Romp Through Rock & Roll History. His solo albums were well received, with United States (2014) receiving glowing reviews.

The Small Faces in 1966: (left to right) Steve Marriott, Kenney Jones, Ronnie Lane and Ian McLagan (REX)

Ian McLagan, who died following a stroke, was twice married: from 1968 to 1972 to Sandy Serjeant, a dancer on the television show Ready Steady Go, and from 1978 to Kim Kerrigan, the former wife of The Who’s drummer Keith Moon. She died in a car crash in 2006, and McLagan is survived by his daughter from his first marriage and a stepdaughter from his second.

Ian McLagan, born May 12 1945, died December 3 2014

Guardian:

US President Barack Obama talks by phone with Cuba's President Raúl Castro on 16 December
US President Barack Obama talks by phone with Cuba’s President Raúl Castro on 16 December. The two countries the next day announced they would restore diplomatic ties. Photograph: Pete Souza/Reuters

The implication of President Obama’s statement, “I’m not expecting transformation of Cuban society overnight”, is that closer economic and cultural ties with the US will eventually allow Cubans to see the light and embrace the “American way” (US decides to bring Cuba in from the cold, 18 December).

What is really needed is for US citizens to learn from other counties that its acceptance of the legalised bribery of its political funding practices, support of dictatorships around the world, lack of gun control, wealth inequality, poor healthcare provision, and tolerance of domestic poverty are much larger impediments of true democracy.
Peter Robbins
London

• For decades, American policy towards Cuba has been hijacked by a small cartel of politicos in Florida and their wealthy benefactors. The US embargo is estimated to have cost the Cuban economy close to a trillion dollars over its 53-year span, not to mention the untold suffering inflicted on the Cuban people and the countless individuals whose lives were lost at sea, induced to emigrate because of privations and embargo-related laws. President Obama’s decision is courageous, and long overdue.
Luis Suarez-Villa
Professor emeritus, University of California, Irvine, USA

• I look at Obama’s announcement of the complete end of the cold war with Cuba, including the opening of an embassy, with great caution. All monies spent by the federal government must be approved in a spending bill approved by Congress. The Republicans have vast majorities in the House and Senate. It is doubtful that even one Republican senator or congressmen would vote for one cent to be spent on the normalisation of relations with Cuba, and there are numerous Democrat senators and congressmen who if they supported this issue would risk losing their seats. Obama has nothing to lose, his political career is over. However, in the Congress this is a different matter. Obama is dreaming the impossible dream.
George Lewis
Brackley, Northamptonshire

• When you say “US decides to bring Cuba in from the cold” I assume you mean “US decides to stop its illegal and spiteful harassment of Cuba”.
Will McLewin
Stockport

• Cuba embodied the failure of American foreign policy. It lies less than 100 miles from the Florida straits, yet more than 50 years of embargo failed to motivate the Cuban people to rise and overthrow the communist leadership; or to instigate a violent regime change in this tiny Caribbean island.

The Cuban scenario has always acted as an inspiration for millions across the globe dismayed by American arrogance and double standards; for the impoverished and the downtrodden and the victims of American policies of imposed sanctions, unlawful invasions and occupations, isolationism and interventionism that resulted in countless deaths in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Venezuela and the occupied Palestinian territories. And despite decades of these policies imposed on Cuba and its proximity to American shores; the US never managed to invade Cuba or to Americanise it. Today, Cuba has one of the most efficient educational systems in the world, universal literacy, universal health coverage and access to clean drinking water and sanitary services. It places children and young people at the heart of its policies. Needless to say, it has very low infant mortalities and high life expectancies. Even the most developed nations are envious of Cuba’s social and health system, and its ability to transmit its model and translate its knowledge and expertise into practice. The recent Ebola disease outbreak in west Africa has affirmed Cuba’s noble principles of equity, social justice and solidarity with the needy; something it has always done without asking for favours in return. It is time for the US to take note.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London

• Now that relations between the US and Cuba at last look set to be placed on a more normal footingit is surely time for the US government to apologise for the attempts to kill or otherwise injure Fidel Castro in the 1960s. That must include the use of an exploding cigar designed to singe his beard and the scattering of thallium salts in his shoes to make his beard drop out.
Keith Flett
London

• Listening to President Obama I was reminded of Albert Einstein, who defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. How prescient.
Dipak Nandy
Nottingham

• The breakthrough in Cuba-US relations is a rare piece of good news in a troubled world, but it is a pity the president did not take a harder line in negotiations with his opposite number over matters ranging from extra-judicial killings, interference in other countries’ affairs, the lack of health provision for much of the population and the failed political system, not to mention the presence of a concentration camp on Cuban soil. Still, Mr Castro can only do so much at what is the start of a process. It is to be hoped that in the medium term he can at least persuade Mr Obama to close the facility at Guantánamo Bay and return the occupied territory to its rightful owners.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB

• The torture may have ceased, for now, but the mindset that engaged in it hasn’t gone. This was demonstrated by the story of the six Guantánamo prisoners who, after years in captivity without being charged with a crime, let alone convicted, were this week sent to freedom in Uruguay still shackled and blindfolded (Report, 12 December). That wasn’t some effort to extract information. It was arbitrary and pointless cruelty.
Kevin McGrath
Harlow, Essex

Man looking upset and depressed
‘The stigma associated with mental health problems is as great a challenge as the “condition” the ­person experience,’ writes Nick Arkle. Photograph: Denis Closon/Rex

I am pleased to see the choice of charities for the Guardian Christmas appeal this year, as I have worked as a mental health nurse for more than 30 years. Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest is a project in Rotherham that has been active for over 20 years. The main aim is to challenge stigma by giving a voice to people with lived experience of mental health conditions, especially psychosis. This often involves presentations in schools and colleges.

Your article on young carers (Haven for isolated young carers of parents with mental illness, 13 December) brought to mind an experience we had in a local secondary school. Year 11 students listened to experiences of mental health difficulties and recovery. As we were leaving one explained that she was a young carer for her mother, who had been diagnosed with a psychosis seven years earlier. She had never disclosed this at school because of fear the stigma would lead to her being bullied. Having heard people describe their experience, she now felt able to talk about her own experience. A teacher pointed out that a support plan could now be developed for the girl.

I believe that the stigma associated with mental health problems is as great a challenge as the “condition” the person experiences. Having been a young carer myself (not something recognised in the 1960s), highlighting the needs of young carers as you have done is to the good.
Nick Arkle
Sheffield

• Like Gael Mosesson (Letters, 13 December) I owe heartfelt thanks to the NHS staff who are looking after me through cancer treatment. Everyone tells me how well I am coping; maybe that’s because chemotherapy, while not much fun, is easy compared with the distress of a first-time episode of severe depression, which two years ago put me in a psychiatric hospital for five weeks.

While there I met people in circumstances much more difficult than mine ( I am retired, financially secure, with supportive family and friends), who were kind and funny and helped each other and me through. I owe the wonderful NHS a lot, but mental health services are, in spite of the promises, still appallingly underfunded and overstretched. The work of the charities you are supporting fills a huge gap, so please, Guardian readers, double the number you first thought of and give it now.
Vanessa Reburn
Devizes, Wiltshire

• I have a different perspective on the use of psychotropic medication from your correspondent Naomi Wallace (Letters, 15 December) as a result of 30 years’ working in research in the pharmaceutical industry and subsequently nine years adjudicating on the compulsory detention of patients under the Mental Health Act. Psychotic patients have a mental disorder and need to be offered treatment in the same way patients with physical illnesses are offered help to control their symptoms. It is morally wrong to deny mentally ill patients treatment and to resist the efforts of well-meaning research scientists trying to understand the origins of the disease and subsequently sell the results of their endeavours as useful treatments.

If medications for mental health issues do not work they fall out of use and are replaced by better, safer medications. It is offensive to suggest that Big Pharma is bent on “assuring us we are very sick and in need of constant drugging” when so many lives have been saved and enhanced by psychotropic medications.
Professor Derek Middlemiss
Newark, Nottinghamshire

• Guidelines from Nice to support and treat pregnant women and new parents with mental illness are welcome (Report, 17 December), but we are concerned they will not be implemented given the huge gaps in perinatal mental health services across the country.

A recent inquiry showed a total of 111 mothers had died from psychiatric causes between 2010 and 2011, a distressing confirmation of the fact that mental illness can be terminal if not treated.

We call on the government to increase funds for specialist services, such as mother and baby units, as well as community-based services and to ensure there is adequate training for all health practitioners in touch with new parents. All those who need perinatal mental health services throughout the UK must have access to them.
Susie Parsons
Chief executive, National Childbirth Trust

In her survey of women changing their surname on marriage (Review, 13 December), Sophie Coulombeau says of the situation in America: “It was only in 1972 that a succession of legal cases confirmed that women could use their birth names in whatever way they pleased.” Up to a point. When I became the Guardian’s Washington correspondent in 1979, the US embassy in London refused to issue a visa to my wife (who keeps her own name) until we had produced our marriage certificate – not the easiest thing to do when you have packed up your home and are on the way to Heathrow.
Harold Jackson
Woolpit, Suffolk

• Stimulated by Coulombeau’s essay, I wanted more information on pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. On looking her up in my Chamber’s Biographical Dictionary I was met by the instruction: “Wollstonecraft, Mary – see Godwin.”
Ian Verber
Broughton in Furness, Cumbria

• Activist pensioners (Letters, 18 December) wanting to inform the world that they are reclaiming not just the P-word for themselves will find that, with a little judicious stitching on the G, the large logo displayed on the front of the sweatshirts of a well-known high street fashion brand can readily be transformed into the out-and-proud statement: “OAP”.
Mike Hine
Kingston on Thames, Surrey

• As a friend of mine heroically secured his concessionary admission to the Acropolis by waving his Blackburn council bus pass, the official summed up the transaction: “So, that’s one pensioner, and two normal.”
Brian Stevenson
Manchester

• With reference to Simon Hattenstone (Opinion, 16 December), although sadly it has never been released as a single, up there alongside the Pogues, is Bob Dylan’s Must Be Santa. Just brilliant.
Celia Ford

Home Office immigration enforcement officers reflected in their vehicle
‘The UK remains the only EU country to detain people indefinitely for immigration purposes.’ Above, immigration enforcement officers reflected in their vehicle window. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga (Mubenga jury not told of guards’ racist texts, 18 December) highlights the inhumane treatment of migrants in the UK. Regardless of immigration status, we should afford all members of our society with dignity. The UK remains the only EU country to detain people indefinitely for immigration purposes and allows the use of pain-based removal techniques. Citizens UK is calling for an end to both of these practices. Criminals and suspected terrorists can be held for a maximum of 28 days, but immigrants – guilty only of trying to gain safety and stability – are held indefinitely while civil servants process paperwork. This is costly in terms of footing the bill for expensive, high-security, prison-like facilities and for compensation. In the past three years, £15m in damages has been paid to unlawfully held migrants. Most important, there is the high human cost when people don’t know how long they are going to be locked up for, with the threat of a painful, enforced removal in the background.

These practices are at odds with the UK our members are proud to call home. This isn’t a call for an open-door immigration policy, but a request to ensure our processes allow dignity for families seeking sanctuary.
Jonathan Cox
Citizens UK

• The Mubenga case will go down as one that will not reassure our minorities. Many regard it as a perverse verdict, even discounting the withholding of the vile texts from the jury. After hearing conflicting evidence, the jury accepted the assurances of the accused that they, the nearest to Mr Mubenga, hadn’t heard his cries of “I can’t breathe”, or held him folded up for any length of time.

Defending counsel argued that along with racist texts against Africans on the phones of two defendants were a mass of offensive “jokes” on Stuart Tribelnig’s phone “at the expense of almost every imaginable minority”, but in the eyes of the judge all content of the texts was irrelevant. This was contrary to the coroner’s verdict, which was also withheld from the jury.

The fate of Eric Garner (A powerful new cry for US justice: ‘I can’t breathe’, 5 December) shows that the justice system on both sides of the pond are struggling to reassure minorities they are equal before the law when it comes to dispensing justice.
Eddie Dougall
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Small fishing trawler, Eyemouth harbour, Scottish Borders

‘Local, sustainable fishermen make up nearly 80% of the UK’s fleet, but are given only 4% of the quota.’ Above, fishing trawler at Eyemouth harbour, in the Scottish Borders. Photograph: David Cheskin/PA

Cuts to fishing quotas will ultimately benefit the long-term future of the fishing industry, as it will lead to healthier number of fish in the future. We all want to see healthy seas. This is the basis for a thriving fishing industry.

Fisheries minister George Eustice claims he secured the best possible deal for fish stocks and the UK’s fishing industry at the EU negotiations (Report, 17 December). But the crucial decision now is how he allocates this quota in the new year.

The fishing quota is concentrated into the hands of a few industrial-scale companies, at the expense of local, sustainable fishermen who make up nearly 80% of the UK’s fleet, but are given only 4% of the quota.

The government has a golden opportunity to change this flawed and unfair system. Following the successful reform of EU fishing law, the government must put local fishermen at the front of the quota queue so that they can fish seasonally and sustainably all year round. This makes sense environmentally and economically as it will create thousands of new jobs and boost coastal economies.
Ariana Densham
Oceans campaigner, Greenpeace UK

Clearly the murder of José Tendetza is a very serious matter (Ecuador indigenous leader found dead days before planned Lima protest, theguardian.com, 6 December). In order for those responsible to be brought to account, it is crucial that the investigation is rigorous, evidence-based and transparent.

Contrary to the allegations reported in this article, Ecuador’s interior minister, José Serrano, has already called for the investigation into José Tendetza’s death to be independently overseen by the indigenous Shuar federation, to ensure its transparency. A reward of $100,000 has been offered to anyone who can provide accurate information about the crime, and the results of a further autopsy have been published, stating death was caused by strangulation.

The claim that Ecuador’s government is somehow complicit in this crime or attempting to hide it is as outrageous as it is baseless.

It is vital that the rights of the indigenous peoples and their surroundings are protected, and over the past seven years Ecuador has made tremendous progress. Ecuador is now officially a plurinational state recognising indigenous languages as official and conferring specific rights for indigenous communities and territories. Over 1.3m hectares of natural habitat has been conserved due to a scheme rewarding communities and landowners for leaving forests undamaged, a sevenfold increase since 2006. Ecuador is a world leader in reduction of poverty and access to education, and our indigenous communities are the group which has benefited most. It is into this process, and the transformation away from extractivism to a high-skilled economy, that Ecuador is ploughing its resources.

Ecuador has also taken the lead internationally in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and of nature, setting up an observatory on the activities of multinationals in the global south and passing a motion at the UN human rights council that a legally binding instrument be set up holding multinationals to account. The ongoing refusal of ChevronTexaco to pay for causing one of the biggest environmental disasters in history in Ecuador’s Amazon is an example of why such a body is necessary.

Central to Ecuador’s citizens’ revolution are the legal rights of communities and of nature, ensuring justice and respecting the rule of law. It is crucial that justice is done in the case of José Tendetza, and Ecuador’s government is committed to making this happen. This case must be investigated transparently, not be used as a political tool against a progressive government.
Juan Falconi Puig
Ambassador of Ecuador to the UK

Independent:

Dr Munjed Farid al Qutob (Letters, 17 December) claims that the Sydney gunman was a criminal, not a Muslim. This brings to mind the words of Tony Blair in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when he claimed that the perpetrators were not Islamic terrorists, just “terrorists pure and simple”.

But by the time London was attacked in July 2005, Blair had changed his tune. In a speech to the Labour Party conference, and recounting by then 26 al-Qaeda episodes, he noted that the terrorists’ motivation was “a religious ideology, a strain within the worldwide religion of Islam, as far removed from its essential decency and truth as Protestant gunmen who kill Catholics or vice versa are from Christianity. But do not let us underestimate it or dismiss it. Those who kill in its name believe genuinely that in doing it, they do God’s work; they go to paradise”.

Then in September 2013, David Cameron turned the clock back to mimic the Blair of 2001, stating of the al-Shabaab attacks that month in Kenya and all the others before: “These appalling terrorist attacks that take place where the perpetrators claim they do it in the name of a religion – they don’t. They do it in the name of terror, violence and extremism and their warped view of the world. They don’t represent Islam or Muslims in Britain or anywhere else in the world.”

Of course the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and their violence, or the actions of a lone Sydney gunman, no more represent the average Muslim than the late Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church represent the average Christian. But does that mean religious dogma isn’t a significant contributing factor to their “warped view of the world”, nonetheless?

Alistair McBay
Perth

 

It is interesting to see how those who commit crimes in the name of their god are rapidly disowned by their fellow religionists. Yet, as Voltaire wrote: “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

As long as it is allowed that children may be indoctrinated into belief in a god who has great powers, and is able to hand out great rewards or terrible punishments, there will be people who interpret their belief in ways which are harmful, and who believe that they have sanction from or duty to their god to do harmful acts.

At this moment, one may naturally think those comments apply to one particular sect, but not so. The reason why religious groups who recognise the problem will defend the right of all religions to indoctrinate children is that they realise that once a restriction is applied to one religious group, it may become clear they are actually all indefensible.

Tony Pointon
Portsmouth

 

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob complains that the media rushed to attribute the tragic siege in Sydney to religious extremism but attached no religious significance to the terrible multiple murders in the US by an army veteran. He implies that this reflects a bias against Islam but overlooks the fact that it was the gunman himself who made the siege in Sydney an Islamic act when he obliged his hostages to hold the Shahada up to the view of the cameras outside. The media may often be guilty of jumping to conclusions, but in this case there was clear evidence that the gunman’s motivation was at least in part religious. The fact that he may have been of doubtful mental stability does not alter this.

If Dr Al Qutob wishes to persuade the world that Islam is a peaceful religion he might do better to address the substantial number of his co-religionists around the world who clearly take a very different view to his on aggression and terrorism, rather than berating the media.

Jonathan Wallace
Newcastle upon Tyne

 

Congratulations on your headline, “In God’s name” (17 December). A despairing world does indeed wonder how religious atrocity can be halted.

Derek Fabian &  Ewa Maydell-Fabian
Dumbarton

 

Wake up to the dangers of Ukip

I greatly applaud your editorial of 16 December, “The nasty party”, for condemning the appalling utterances of some of Ukip’s principals. It is high time that the majority of those that are being sucked into giving Farage and his cronies support and succour were made aware of the real dangers they are at risk of creating if Ukip gains too much power.

How did a relatively small number of fascist extremists win over the majority of normal Germans to their way of thinking and behaving? It frightens me to think that the same could happen here over the next decade or so, unless ordinary members of society with the power to vote wake up to the dangers that they could be facing.

Peter Bridgman
Charlbury, Oxfordshire

 

Ukip’s success at securing £1.5m from the European Union from a fund set aside for parties that want to promote European integration exposes the party’s blatant hypocrisy. Taking money from the EU while fervently working against it is the same as those who come to the UK, who don’t believe in our laws and seek to overthrow democracy, but who use the human rights legislation that democracy created to prevent them being deported. Ukip would be the first to condemn such people for this treachery and yet they consider it perfectly acceptable to behave in the same way themselves. Please remember this next May.

Henry Page
Newhaven, East Sussex

 

Perhaps you might consider letting a representative of the Green Party have a slot to balance that nice Mr Farage on a weekly basis. It would be so refreshing to hear from a rational but radically different opinion from all the other, rather restricted, views that are rolled out with tedious monotony.

Robert Hammersley
Cuckfield, West Sussex

 

Ukip’s immigration spokesman maintains Ukip’s candidates are “ordinary people” who did not have the media training that their political rivals had and sometimes had to be “guided”. This is one hypothesis. Another is that it is a party whose policies attract individuals with views that are repellent enough to require censor by its central office and which brings out and fosters a blinkered nastiness in its supporters.

Angelo Micciche
St Erth, Cornwall

 

John Blenkinsopp (17 December) asks why The Independent gives Nigel Farage “the oxygen of publicity” by allowing him to have a weekly column. Might it have something to do with the newspaper being called The Independent?

Patrick Walsh
Eastbourne

 

Does cartoon violence really hurt?

I read with interest your report (17 December) of the joint University College London/University of Ottawa research findings that on-screen death and violence in cartoons “can be particularly traumatic for young children, and the impact can be intense and long-lasting”. Noting that both Snow White (1937) and Bambi (1942) were included in the survey, one might be forgiven for wondering how it is that successive generations of kids have previously proved to be highly resistant to the effects of such trauma, despite prolonged and repeated exposure?

Could it be that young people are able to determine the difference between make-believe and the genuine article?

Jeremy Redman
London SE6

 

How to improve ‘question time’

Like Alice Jones (13 December), I watch Question Time and I concur that it often descends into a transplant of the Commons Punch and Judy show. The most interesting and informative part is the audience, who seem to have ideas quite different from the supposed opinions of Britons.

It would not be difficult to improve the show enormously. To start with; no more than two politicians at any time. Instead, include scientists, engineers, doctors, architects, and lawyers on each show. Not only would these professionals have a good knowledge of the minutiae of the issues at stake, but because, being  professionals, their livelihood and reputations depend on logical thinking.

John Day
Port Solent, Hampshire

 

Prince William should look closer to home

Prince William campaigns on behalf of African rhinos and elephants. Well done; both worthy and excellent causes. But why doesn’t the slaughter of our native breeding hen harriers, now in steep decline due to being shot by gamekeepers on grouse moors, also merit his attention? In 2007 allegations were made that his brother, Harry, had shot two hen harriers on the Sandringham Estate, but the case never came to anything.

Peter Brown
Brighton

 

Welcome US-Cuba rapprochement

President Obama mentions health as part of the new relations between the US and Cuba (report, 18 December). It will, of course, be 100 per cent from Cuba to the US and might help the US to attain a civilised universal system to replace the shameful apology that it currently has.

Ted Clark
Leamington Spa

Times:

Sir, Alice Thomson (“Preserve the Union. Give Scots home rule”, Dec 17) is only half right, and dangerously so. Giving the Scots home rule in a unitary constitution will not avert calls for independence and could easily lead to counter calls from the English.

English votes for English laws (Evel) is acceptable as a temporary solution, but will fairly quickly be seen not to have dealt with the anomalous position of Scots MPs because most legislation for England will have financial consequences and therefore affect Scottish finance, particularly if the Barnett formula remains in place.

Creeping devolution of powers leads to disintegration of the Union. Better, as both Joseph Chamberlain and Walter Long recognised, “Home Rule all round” and a properly designed federal constitution.

If the federal government were confined to foreign policy, defence, and measures to secure a level playing field and open market within the context of Europe, the relative size of England would not matter and income tax would be paid more readily because it would be levied to fund purely English, Scottish, Welsh and Ulster business.

John Barnes

Etchingham, E Sussex

Sir, Mr Hague, as former Welsh secretary, will know there is a third consequence facing his three possible options on English votes for English laws (report and leader, Dec 17). England is not a standalone jurisdiction. Since 1535 the laws of England and Wales have been unified (notwithstanding Welsh devolution), and since 1542 England and Wales have been a single state under the English crown.

Over the past two years some 60 public general acts have been passed by the Westminster parliament. Of those, 49 extended to the whole of the UK (albeit with some sections dealing separately with individual territories, such as Northern Ireland). A further four extended to Great Britain alone. Six applied to England and Wales only, and one applied just to Scotland.

Only the six England and Wales bills (just 10 per cent) would have given rise to the “English votes for English laws” approach and, even then, some provision would have been needed to ensure that Welsh MPs were not excluded from the legislative process. As a consequence some mechanism has to be found whereby bills highlight specific English issues which differ from those for Wales. In legislative drafting terms this is going to be something of a challenge and will (as you say in your leader) need time to get right.

Jonathan Teasdale
Haywards Heath, W Sussex

Sir, It seems rather odd to assume that the Scots, having voted decisively against independence, actually want the SNP to be handed victory by the back door. But what about the implications of “Evel” for Wales?

In truth Wales as a country is an artificial concept whose boundaries have been determined more by political convenience than by the wishes of local populations. There are Welsh people, a Welsh language and a Welsh culture but in large parts of Wales they are a minority, and North and South Wales have little in common.

For obvious geographic reasons the north has far more economic, and historical, links with Merseyside than with Cardiff, and any sensible scheme of devolution would re-create “Manwebshire” — the old Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board area — rather than force alien government from Cardiff on the north. The people of the north voted against devolution in the first place; they deserve better than to be thrown out of the UK at the behest the self-interested political mafia in Cardiff.

Mark Griffiths

Llandyrnog, Denbighshire

Sir, English votes for English laws makes a good soundbite but it provides neither devolution for the people of England nor a set of logical roles for the MPs representing different parts of the Union. Devolution in Scotland and Wales did not mean giving MPs representing Scottish or Welsh constituencies responsibilities for those nations. Rather, devolution removed from them any influence over uniquely Scottish or Welsh matters.

Ian Statham (letter, Dec 18) is no doubt right that English people favour giving Scottish MPs “no say whatsoever” over English matters — but they currently have no say over Scottish matters either. Under the government’s Evel proposals MPs representing Scottish constituencies would only have a role in respect of UK-wide issues. That is surely what the aim should be in the long term: a UK parliament that deals only with UK-wide matters, and devolved assemblies for the whole of the population.

Every English region other than the North East has a population comparable to, or larger than that of, Scotland, and many have populations larger than that of Scotland and Wales combined. If it is economically efficient and democratically just for the five million people living in Scotland to decide their own education, housing and planning policies, then so it should be for the five million in Yorkshire or the eight million in London.

David Seex
London E2

Sir, To accept that Mr Cameron was correct to state that a solution must be found to permit English votes for English laws leads inexorably to the disintegration of the Westminster parliament and thus the break-up of the United Kingdom itself.

The government of the UK has been conducted by Westminster for centuries. To start tinkering with what Westminster MPs can or cannot do — depending on where they come from — can only be the slippery slope to the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Ian GF Mavor
London SW1

Sir, The West Lothian question arises because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have an extra tier of government that the English don’t have and, it seems, don’t want. An alternative would be to abolish the members of the Scottish parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies and have the Westminster MPs fulfill their role. English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs could sit in their devolved parliaments dealing with local issues for part of the week, and in the UK parliament dealing with only UK-wide issues for the rest of the week. This would put all constituent parts on an equal and fair footing.

Paul Usher
Harpenden, Herts

Sir, In describing James Watson as a genius and “titan of 20th-century science”, Tom Whipple (Dec 13) overeggs the pudding. His “genius” lay in the ability and ruthlessness to harness the efforts of others. Even with the measurements and data purloined from Rosalind Franklin’s notebook and the helical structure of DNA that her famous photograph 51 revealed (seen without her consent), Watson still had difficulty fitting the four bases into his model of DNA.

It was his good fortune that the American structural chemist Jerry Donohue shared Watson’s room in the Cavendish laboratory. Observing Watson’s struggles, he suggested that the “enol” form of the bases was wrong and that they should be substituted for the “keto” form. That did the trick, and the rest is history.

It is not credible that Franklin did not know her maths, as Watson alleges. It was she who famously corrected the Nobel laureate Linus Pauling that the phosphates must be on the outside of the DNA chains and not on the inside.

Years later, Aaron Klug’s analysis of her notebooks showed that on February 24, 1953, she realised that both the A and B forms of DNA were two-chain helices. On February 28 Francis Crick announced that he and Watson had found the secret of life.
Roslyn Pine

London N3

Sir, It is a happy coincidence that the first woman to be appointed a bishop in the Church of England, the Rev Elizabeth (Libby) Lane, bears the same name as the first woman county and High Court judge. Elizabeth Kathleen Lane became the first female county court judge in 1962, being “promoted” to the High Court bench (as a judge in the probate, divorce and admiralty division) three years later in 1965. Does this presage preferment to a diocesan see for Libby Lane in 2018, perhaps?
David Lamming

Boxford, Suffolk

Sir, It is incorrect to say that only now has the first clinic to treat victims of female genital mutilation been set up (report, Dec 17). A lot of work has been put into helping victims of FGM, particularly over the past five years, as it has become much more recognised as a major public health problem. In 1997 a midwife and I established a clinic at Guy’s Hospital to care for FGM victims. We have now treated more than 6,000 women, helped several UK hospitals to set up FGM clinics, and run regular courses for health workers about FGM.
Janice Rymer

Professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals Foundation Trust

Sir, The Christmas truce of 1914 was a missed opportunity for lasting peace because the wrong game was played. Instead of 90 minutes of fussball, a timeless cricket Test ought to have been arranged in no man’s land (letters, Dec 13). Cricket was popular in Germany from the turn of the 19th century, especially in Berlin. Playing on into 1915 might have encouraged French and Belgian cricketers to send home for their kit to play similar matches with their neighbours.
Brian Cope

Finham, Coventry

Telegraph:

Photo: ALAMY

SIR – It is a myth that degree-level education for nurses is bad for patient care (Letters, December 17). A study of nurses in 11 European countries (including England) by RN4CAST, the research group, has shown that hospital mortality is approximately seven per cent lower for every 10 per cent increase in the proportion of nurses with degrees.

Research in America also found that a 10 per cent increase in the number of nurses with a bachelor’s degree was associated with a five per cent reduction in the likelihood of patients dying within 30 days of admission.

Given this data, it is unsurprising that every major British review of nursing over the past 20 years has supported degree-level education as the right preparation for the challenging and complex roles that nurses undertake.

We should be proud of our graduate nurses, help them to apply their skills to lead innovation and improvement in patient care, encourage them to engage in research and support them in challenging poor practice.

This should not distract us from a broken workforce planning system that has delivered a predictable crisis in the number of new nurses following 20 per cent cuts in the number of places between 2010/11 and 2012/13.

Prof Dame Jessica Corner
Chairman, Council of Deans of Health
London WC1

SIR – I trained for nursing under the “modular” system 32 years ago, which provided a hugely valuable practical experience, for what is – or should be – a very practical vocation.

I am now an ambulance paramedic. University-based training is becoming the norm for this equally practical job. I wonder how many youngsters will “stick at it” when their highfalutin qualifications clash with the realities of the work we do.

The nation is obsessed by “going to uni”, and getting a degree. It’s time to acknowledge that not going into higher education is not the end of the world.

Tim Bradbury
Winnington, Cheshire

SIR – I started my nurse training in the Sixties, aged 17. First, we had six weeks of preparation in the training school. After that, we were sent on to the wards to experience real nursing.

One of my first jobs was cleaning the dentures of the men on my ward after breakfast. This did not put me off and I qualified in 1972.

Gillian Roxburgh
Kintbury, Berkshire

SIR – Does nobody appreciate the immorality of tempting trained medical staff away from mostly poorer countries because we refuse to afford to train our own?

D C Cox
Falmouth, Cornwall

Violence in Pakistan

EPA

SIR – What has happened to Pakistan? I was born in Murree in 1936 and lived in Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province until my family left the country when I was 10, just before independence.

My memories are of the total freedom we had as children of the Raj and of the kind and gentle local people we knew and mingled with every day. It is unthinkable that any faction in that beautiful country should stoop to murdering children.

Jonathan Lawley
London SW12

SIR – Do these so-called Muslims read their Koran? All but one of its chapters begin with the words “In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate”.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

SIR – The Taliban’s massacre of children in Pakistan should demonstrate to the world that these thugs and their ideology have no place in civilised society. To slaughter innocent children is not a requirement of Islam, and their acts should be condemned by all faith leaders.

It is time for the world to unite against these barbarians – the Taliban, Boko Haram and Isil – all of which claim they are fighting in defence of their religion.

It is time for Pakistan to cooperate with other nations to seek out those who perpetrate these crimes against humanity.

Keith Taylor
Hereford

Risks of home birth

SIR – How right Anita Singh is: giving birth is unpredictable. Expectant mothers might live miles from the nearest hospital, traffic can cause problems, and fast ambulance transport might not be available when things don’t go to plan.

I trained as a midwife in the late Sixties, when a flying squad provided rapid transport of blood for situations when women were bleeding to death at home. Does Nice want to return to these times?

Appropriate use of interventions – such as forceps, Caesarean section and blood transfusion – can improve the outcome for both mother and baby. The assertion that doctors trained in obstetrics and gynaecology are intervening unnecessarily lacks evidence.

Christine A Lee
Emeritus Professor of Haemophilia, University of London
London WC1

Money sings

(Getty Images)

SIR – My local branch of Lloyds Bank started playing music many months ago (Letters, December 16).

I now visit as infrequently as possible and do most of my banking online. I am sure this is what the banks really want.

S H Furlonger
Epsom, Surrey

SIR – I have complained bitterly to my local Lloyds Bank, as its “music” is so loud that my hearing aids can’t cope. I have been forced to move banks to a quieter one.

Supermarkets are just as bad. I recommend Lidl as the only supermarket I know where you can shop in peace.

Jane Righton
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

To have and to hold

SIR – Julie Juniper (Letters, December 15) has a curious view that wearing a wedding ring would indicate that she would “belong” to someone.

A wedding ring is not a sign of belonging but of a union in partnership.

Wilhemina Bothwell
Cirencester, Gloucestershire

SIR – Referring to Simon Edsor’s query about when men started wearing wedding bands (Letters, December 13), it is of more interest to me to know when and why “wedding rings” became “wedding bands”. Another import from across the pond?

Eileen Harrington
Scawthorpe, West Yorkshire

The English Question

SIR – You correctly point out that the solution to the English Question is simple, but that it is likely to be fudged.

The Prime Minister should insist that the English Question is dealt with under the same legislation that will grant further powers to the Scottish Parliament. All that is needed is a short, two-part Constitutional Reform Bill. Part one would amend the Representation of the People Acts to limit the voting rights of any person elected for a Scottish seat to undevolved matters. Part two would then devolve the agreed new powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Parliament must vote on this before the general election so that every MP’s position is clear to the electorate.

Christopher Dickson
Leatherhead, Surrey

Golf appeal

(Getty Images)

SIR – I was disappointed that Rory McIlroy (above) did not win Sports Personality of the Year. Last summer he dominated golf, winning three titles in just over three weeks – arguably the greatest achievement by a British golfer in the modern era.

Golf is declining in popularity as a sport. Some simple changes could be made, such as not allowing the Open to be held at any golf club that does not admit women.

However, the main problem is that golf takes too long to play. Cricket suffered a similar problem, so it introduced 20/20 competitions. Golf needs a similar solution.

Barry Smith
Loughborough, Leicestershire

SIR – I do not understand what all the fuss is about. It is only the sporting version of Strictly Come Dancing, where the best dancers do not necessarily win. Just a lot of fun at the taxpayers’ expense.

W K Wood
Bolton, Lancashire

SIR – The end was nigh (Letters, December 15) when Bob Dylan decided to take up golf.

Alex Robb
Woolton, Lancashire

The season of goodwill – and reimbursement

SIR – Every year, my children ask me what presents I would like for Christmas.

Inevitably, my mind wanders to the various items that they have “borrowed” over the previous 12 months. Would it be unkind or insensitive of me to ask for a large ball of string, a pair of kitchen scissors, a set of screwdrivers, a pair of binoculars and a well-maintained 18in-blade, petrol-driven lawnmower?

Ken Grimrod-Smythe
Ingbirchworth, South Yorkshire

SIR – Last weekend we attended a Sunday school production involving some of our grandchildren.

Last year’s performance had been a traditional nativity play (Letters, December 12). Granddaughter Alice was the Virgin Mary and her brother Louis was Joseph. At some point the narrator announced: “Then Joseph took the holy child from Mary.” Mary had other ideas and screamed: “No, he’s mine!” Joseph made a grab for the child, but was strongly resisted. Tears and raised voices ensued.

This year the plot concerned the writing of Silent Night, and the script provided for no contact between the two children. Thus was peace preserved, rather to the disappointment of the audience.

Paul Renecle
Newent, Gloucestershire

SIR – Paul Molyneux (Letters, December 17) could do his wife a service by cutting insoles out of their leftover bubble wrap for her party shoes, thus making her Christmas dancing more comfortable.

Though with 70 metres to use, it is to be hoped that she is the Imelda Marcos of the Wirral.

Sara Dickinson
Tadworth, Surrey

A long hop across the country in search of rabbit

Bunny boiler: a 19th-century Japanese foot warmer made of varnished stoneware (www.bridgemanart.com)

SIR – Ann Hellewell (Letters, December 16) asks where the rabbits have gone.

They are all in my garden and she is welcome to bring a gun, a net, her ferrets or all three.

Chris Gordon
Boston, Lincolnshire

SIR – Ann Hellewell can have the rabbit I ordered some months ago as a treat for my husband (I am a vegetarian).

It is/was a wild, free-range rabbit. It was delivered fresh and wholly intact – a sight I found so distressing that I burst into tears and stashed it in the freezer away from my sight and thoughts.

So the rabbit is here, frozen in time, if anyone would like him/it.

Ann Baker
Torpoint, Cornwall

Irish Times:

Sir, – Being kept on life support while a team of people decides if you will be treated like an incubator or a human is archaic and saddening (“Medical dilemma over woman on life support”, Front Page, December 18th).

This woman is not being kept “alive”, she is being perfused and ventilated inhumanely because the Government refuses to act on repealing the eighth amendment before the next election. This cowardice has meant that twice in the last year, doctors have been left with bizarre situations where the foetus has actually become more important than the woman. This is complete madness. How many more women have to be treated like vessels, solely here for the purpose of growing foetuses?

People talk about reaching a stage of viability, but this term is extremely misleading. I am a paediatric doctor working in a neonatal intensive care unit and babies being born at 24 weeks isn’t something that we should be aspiring to or relieved about when it happens. It means life support for a period of time, four months in intensive care, a high chance of severe disability and a 50 per cent chance of death.

Delivering babies once they become “viable” is not the answer to this legal mess. – Yours, etc,

Dr AISLING GEOGHEGAN,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Over 31 years ago I opposed the insertion of the eighth amendment to the Constitution on abortion, feeling that the wording was not understandable and its consequences were unclear. The outcome of the insertion of Article 40.3.3 into the Constitution cannot be what those who proposed it intended.

We have lurched from one disaster to another with a pregnant woman or girl at the centre of each calamity and doctors in the unenviable position of being unclear what they can do, with lawyers leaning over their shoulders. The Minister for Health Leo Varadkar spoke the truth when he said that the health of the pregnant woman, even if she has a serious problem, cannot be taken into consideration as things are (“Existing abortion laws are ‘too restrictive’, says Varadkar”, December 17th).

He could have said more about cases where the developing child has a fatal foetal abnormality, diagnosed nowadays during pregnancy, which was not the case three decades ago.

He could have pointed out that we now know some women in such situations are having the abortion of such a foetus initiated in England but the second stage carried out in Ireland, either for financial reasons or because she and her partner wish to have the child buried in Ireland. How long before there is a disaster on a plane or a ferry?

How long will we ignore the fact that hundreds of women are importing abortifacient pills without medical supervision? Without counselling in these cases, the embryo will certainly be lost and a woman’s life may be too.

The removal of Article 40.3.3 is a health issue, one of great importance to women, and it is right that the Minister for Health should have spoken on the present unsatisfactory situation. – Yours, etc,

MARY HENRY, MD

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Perhaps the most important words in Leo Varadkar’s speech on Clare Daly’s Bill to repeal the eighth amendment of the Constitution were these: “We can never say ‘never again’ and think to mean it. We need to face up to that and be honest about it. There is no perfect abortion law and never will be. We will always be challenged to amend and refine whatever law we have and so we should.”

They sum up precisely why we must urgently remove the complex issue of abortion from our Constitution and deal with it through legislation that can be amended when its shortcomings become obvious. – Yours, etc,

Dr SANDRA McAVOY,

Cork.

Sir, – As a practising counsellor and psychotherapist, I read with interest Fiona Gartland’s article “Call for pre-trial hearings on disclosure of notes in sex cases” (December 15th, 2014).

Among the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission, in its report Disclosure and Discovery in Criminal Cases, was that “in a sexual offence case, the court should have regard to the following additional factors: (a) society’s interest in encouraging the reporting of sexual offences; (b) society’s interest in encouraging the obtaining of treatment by complainants of sexual offences; and (c) the public interest in ensuring that adequate records are kept of counselling communications”.

According to your article, the commission’s recommendations were made in the context, inter alia, of a recent increase in requests for access to counselling records in sexual offence cases.

While I am not qualified to comment on the legal aspects of the commission’s report, I am concerned at the growing tendency to intrude into the relationship between counsellor and client, in particular, the requirement in the Children First Bill 2014 that counsellors report childhood abuse disclosed by victims who are their adult clients.

This requirement is likely to militate against all three of the commission’s points quoted above.

Together with other practitioners with whom I have discussed this matter, my feeling is that, by discouraging clients from disclosing sexual abuse or from entering counselling in the first place, a requirement for mandatory reporting will operate against the client’s therapeutic needs as well as being counter-productive, from a public policy point of view, in that abuse which might have been disclosed and come voluntarily to the attention of the authorities, as at present, will not now do so.

This is apart from the possible impact on the client of their involvement in the criminal justice system resulting from mandatory reporting by the counsellor, regardless of the consent or otherwise of the client, in circumstances where the client is in a vulnerable and fragile condition.

Hopefully, in considering the question of mandatory reporting by counsellors and psychotherapists, our legislators will take note of the Law Reform Commission report’s recommendations.

Balancing the imperative of protecting children with that of meeting the therapeutic needs of the client/victim is clearly very difficult. Mandatory reporting of their childhood abuse disclosed by adult clients may appear necessary to protect children yet, for the reasons outlined, the appropriate balance may not lie in that direction. – Yours, etc,

IAN WOODS,

Swords,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Obviously we need a proper network of hiking trails on publicly owned land (Editorial, December 16th).

However, the insistence by some that they ought to have rights also to trespass on private land derives from a feudal mindset that is part suburban arrogance (the countryside is my plaything), part begrudgery (as we saw in the Lissadell House farce) and part ignorance of the family and personal significance of land to a country person (the urban person will assume that a house and garden are much more “personal” than “mere land”).

Not all ramblers are decent or well-behaved, and no ramblers’ association can guarantee that they will be. Once a trail becomes established or publicised on social media, it’s open season for all ramblers, decent ones and not-so-decent ones alike.

I know of elderly hill farmers who are plagued with aggressive, illegal shooters and anti-social behaviour by delinquent gangs on their land. They see outlying barns and farms in remote areas as a handy no-surveillance alternative to shopping malls. The effect is that old folk and children in isolated areas do not feel safe on their own land.

Further, when I lived in a high-rise flat in Dublin, no doubt it would have been pleasant to have been able to avail of the amenities of the large private walled gardens I walked past in parts of South Dublin. However, you can imagine the (justifiably) outraged reception, both social and legal, had I attempted illegally to march my family over a fence onto a private lawn in Foxrock to have a picnic.

In the area of access to other people’s property and other people’s amenities, it seems that well-heeled suburbanites are happy to play the “property is theft” card, but only when it suits them. – Yours, etc,

SEÁN MacCANN,

Trillick,

Co Tyrone.

Sir, – Peter Nyberg, in testifying to the Oireachtas banking inquiry, blames individual borrowers as well as large developers and bankers for the banking crisis and economic crash. In doing so, he is, unwittingly, falling into the trap which politicians and bankers would like everyone to fall into (“Soft landing was ‘quite unlikely’ , says Nyberg”, December 18th).

Except for a very few, most individuals who borrowed exorbitant sums to pay extortionate prices for very ordinary houses had very little choice if they wanted to provide security of tenure and long-term stability for their families.

If it had been possible to buy a three-bedroomed home in Dublin in a reasonable area for less than €350,000 to €400,000, then of course home buyers would have taken that option, if it were there. It wasn’t, which is why so many ended up buying in places 100-150km from their jobs and extended families.

But because of the decisions of politicians not to acknowledge that excessively high home prices are bad for both society and the economy and to enforce limits on bank lending, those bankers, like the devil, were given a horse, and by God they rode it to hell!

Placing blame on individual home buyers for the crisis is engaging in the same “group-think” that politicians and bankers will engage in during the banking inquiry in an attempt to absolve themselves from the blame which lies squarely and solely on their shoulders. This is grossly unfair to ordinary citizens who had no involvement in the bad decisions by the so-called “leaders” of our country. – Yours, etc,

DAVID DORAN,

Bagenalstown, Co Carlow.

Sir, – The ability of the Central Bank to maintain a rules-based system of mortgage control is questionable, given past experience in this country. As was reported in “ESRI voices concern over housing market move” (Front Page, December 17th, 2014), the ESRI in its submission to the Central Bank states that the new mechanisms were “the only real protection” against a credit-fuelled boom and it was concerned about the effects on the housing market from the housing supply side. The loan to value proposal is set at 80 per cent and the loan to income is set at 3½ times annual earnings by the Central Bank.

The new mechanisms aren’t “the only real protection” and the above proposals are skewed to favour the wealthy. On the loan to value side, a loan to value on houses up to and including €400,000 could be set at 90 per cent; for properties between €400,001 and €900,000, a loan to value could be set at 80 per cent, with €900,000 the maximum mortgage available for a property from any institution. The loan to income could remain at 3½ times annual income with account taken of longer terms than 25 years, say 40 years, for those purchasing properties up to €400,000, to allow for the high cost early stage, with reviews half way through the period to allow for earlier redemption, if required by the borrowers. This approach, strictly maintained, would allay the fears of the ESRI and be beneficial towards housing supply and borrowers and dampen any housing boom.

Our purpose is to provide affordable housing for all of our population and not investment vehicles. – Yours, etc,

HUGH McDERMOTT,

Glasnevin,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – I am bemused to learn that the process of deleting PPS numbers undertaken by Irish Water is “quite seismic” and will take months (“Deletion of PPS numbers a ‘seismic’ process, says Alan Kelly”, December 18th). Would it to help expedite matters if I sent a Christmas gift of a bottle of Tipp-Ex? – Yours, etc,

FRANK BYRNE,

Terenure,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – I signed up to Irish Water, early on, as I have a medical condition that requires a lot of water. I signed up for fear of being “roasted” by the meter for this use. I ticked a box on the application to receive information from Irish Water on a medical exemption. No such information has arrived. I emailed Irish Water last week and was informed that the medical exemption facility has been dropped. I think this will come as news to many people. I am beginning to wonder if my application is now null and void as Irish Water has not delivered on my application, so I emailed them again. I have been informed that you can ring them and have your application cancelled. I think that will also come as news to people. – Yours, etc,

CONAN DOYLE,

Kilkenny.

Sir, – As we head into the Christmas season, many families in Ireland will be struggling with the pressures of the festive season. Years of austerity have put huge strains on family budgets, hundreds of thousands are out of work and rising rent prices are forcing people out of homes across the country.

But the good news is that more and more people are becoming dissatisfied with this state of affairs. Thousands have marched against the water charges and hundreds of thousands of families are using the Christmas period to donate to charities of all kinds. And all those people know that if we want a better Ireland, we will need to work together.

Yet not all of us realise that our efforts to build a better Ireland will not succeed unless we strengthen the way we work together across borders.

Our world is connected like never before. From international bank debts to the spread of infectious diseases, what happens in one part of the world matters to us all.

And what drives people in developing countries into poverty is directly linked to the type of situations that cause people in Ireland to lose a job, a home or an income. In 2015, let us endeavour to do our best to overcome the challenges that Ireland is facing, by understanding them as global, not just local, problems. And let us celebrate those around us who are providing inspirational examples of what it means to be an active citizen in a highly inter-dependent and interwoven global society. – Yours, etc,

HANS ZOMER,

Director,

Dóchas,

1-2 Baggot Court, Dublin 2.

Sir, – Kathy Sheridan is, as usual, incisive and so right (“Time for voters to shake off the shackles of localism”, Opinion & Analysis, December 17th). However, she does not specifically mention the fundamental causes of the political malaise that have been with us since the foundation of the State, ie the PR voting system, multiseat constituencies and too many TDs, which breed and feed on localism. The electorate was given two chances to change the system in 1959 and 1968, but declined.

There is no indication that the established parties or the so-called “reformers” are prepared to tackle these real issues now. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN O’DONNELL,

Glenageary,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Patsy McGarry’s article on President Michael D Higgins made for welcome reading (“Goodwill to all NGOs, gardaí and the church”, Rite & Reason, December 16th).

We as a nation appear to be drowning in negativity at every turn. As Mr Higgins said in Ethiopia about missionaries and those working in NGOs, “to me they represent an Irishness to which all of us should aspire”.

Maybe we have to travel abroad and look back to see the qualities at times hidden beneath the surface, qualities we are afraid to express and qualities we are in danger of loosing. Blaming everyone else for the problems we see all around us has become the norm as personal responsibility appears to have taken a back seat.

Wouldn’t it be great to start of the new year on a positive note, ringing to the sound of “yes we can”. This only requires changing the mindset first. – Yours, etc,

ALICE LEAHY

Director and co-founder,

Trust,

Bride Road,

Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

Published 19/12/2014 | 02:30

People can feel the loss of loved ones more at Christmas

People can feel the loss of loved ones more at Christmas

Next week, we celebrate the feast of Christmas. Whatever people think about its religious significance – or, alternatively, its connection with consumerism – it is undoubtedly a time for meeting up with family and friends.

It is a time of year that many people find difficult. Memories of happier times can often come to the fore and these can contrast starkly with a person’s present circumstances. We often feel the loss of a loved one who passed away during the year more acutely at this time of year. And Christmas can often highlight more difficult periods in a person’s life, whether from childhood or adulthood.

We are hard-wired for connection with other people. It is a deep need in us and is as essential to life as air and food. That is why the feeling of loneliness is probably the most difficult feeling we as humans have to deal with. Much has been said and written about the death of homeless man Jonathan Corrie near Dail Eireann in recent weeks. But perhaps the most poignant response I heard came from another homeless man who said “you kinda get hardy to the cold but the worst pain of all is the pain of loneliness.”

If you are celebrating Christmas this year in the company of loved ones, whether family or friends, please spare a thought for anyone who may be spending Christmas alone. Even better if you are in a position to seat someone extra round your table for dinner, invite someone you suspect may be spending Christmas alone. While some people make a conscious decision to be alone at Christmas and may even resent what they might see as ‘do gooders’ trying to tell them what is good for them, I would rather annoy someone in this way than to think someone may be on their own.

There is nothing worse than the pain of loneliness and the longing for someone’s company when there is no one there. Let’s ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone this Christmas.

Tommy Roddy

Salthill, Co Galway

An emigrant’s Christmas

The true meaning of Christmas is love and for me it’s all about being around the people you love, like family and friends.

However, this year I am not able to be around those people in my life, as I am living abroad in Canada and it’s just too expensive for me to go home every year for Christmas, which I would love to do. I have made good friends through work but that’s not the same as being around friends you have known all your life.

Personally, I will feel a bit lonely waking up this year on Christmas Day with no family to sit and open presents with. I’ll miss seeing what everyone got, joking about the presents and then sitting down for Christmas dinner.

I left Ireland in 2012 for work in Canada and I have been home for Christmas the last two years. To move abroad was a big decision to make and I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I have a job and I’m making money, which I wouldn’t be doing if I was still in Ireland .

But it’s at times like Christmas that you think about the people in your life and what they mean to you, and my family are the ones I would like to see on Christmas morning. I know I won’t and that makes me feel a bit sad and lonely, but I suppose that’s what I get for moving abroad!

So while all of you are spending Christmas with your loved ones, spare a thought for those who can’t make it home.

John Coldrick

Canada

’60s Cuban crisis made me jump

I think it’s great that the United States is starting to thaw relations with Cuba, one of the last foes from the Cold War. It has been a long, strange journey since the late ’50s. Since Fidel Castro and his brother Raul have ruled Cuba there have been 11 US presidents.

I grew up in America and spent the early ’60s as a young kid, living in fear of the missiles supplied by Russia that were only 90 miles from the US.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, our family was looking at buying an underground bomb shelter. There was a fear that the end was near. But my mom and dad decided not to buy a bomb shelter but instead bought a trampoline. My mom thought if the world was going to end, we might as well have fun.

Kevin Devitte

Westport, Co Mayo

Hare coursing disgraces Ireland

With dozens of animal baiting fixtures to be held over Christmas, a stark reminder of just how anomalous and out of date our animal cruelty laws are has been provided by the conviction of four men earlier this month for hare coursing in Cambridgeshire, England.

In addition to fining the culprits, Huntington Magistrates’ Court ordered that two of their vehicles be crushed.

By contrast, here in Ireland hare coursing is permitted by law and supported by some leading politicians.

Following weeks of unnatural captivity, the timid and inoffensive hares can be mauled or otherwise injured as the dogs pin them down or toss them about on the coursing field.

A special provision exempting hare coursing from prohibition was inserted into the Animal Health and Welfare Act at the behest of the powerful pro-hare baiting lobby. This legislative anomaly utterly disgraces Ireland in the estimation of decent people worldwide.

Hundreds of hares will be forced to run for their lives over Christmas, with snugly dressed fans gathering to watch the iconic creatures, their eyes bulging from sheer terror as they dodge and swerve to evade the salivating dogs.

John Fitzgerald

Campaign for the Abolition Of Cruel Sports

Callan, Co Kilkenny

Political farce disguised as reform

I note your report that next May the electorate will be given the opportunity to consider such weighty topics as the age of qualification for the office of President.

No doubt this referendum will be the source of weeks of political debate and even a commission to ensure that the electorate are fully aware of the finer nuances of this vital issue. In the meantime, legislation regarding the issue of the supply of water is “guillotined” through the Dail, thus avoiding a proper debate on the subject. And when that legislation proves entirely unsatisfactory, the amending legislation is itself guillotined through. This Government offered us political reform but has delivered us political farce.

Norman FitzGerald

Taylors Hill, Galway

Hospital staff need more support

I welcome the letter from the Carr family (Irish Independent, December 17) since it corresponds to my own experience of a year ago and I am sure that of many other anxious parents.

Nevertheless our hospital staff and management deserve more support than our beleaguered politicians have so far been able to give them in 2014.

Christmas is a good time to reflect on where we have gone wrong. The Ballyhea bailout protesters will tell us if we listen to them and follow their example of reasoned and dignified protest until matters are corrected.

But I can do no better at this time than the Carr family and I add my Christmas greetings to theirs.

Dr Gerald Morgan

The Chaucer Hub

Trinity College Dublin

Introduce non-religious oath

It is puzzling why the Government has not included amongst the forthcoming referenda what would be a relatively simple and uncontentious change to our Constitution.

All parties and religious leaders in our state are committed to a pluralist society and to add in an option to ‘truthfully affirm’ for those who do not wish to swear the existing religious oath would surely meet with no objections from any quarter?

With about a quarter of a million people of no religion in the State it cannot be acceptable to discriminate any longer against them in this way.

Dick Spicer

Bray, Co Wicklow

Irish Independent

Dentist

December 18, 2014

18 December 2014 Dentist

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I go out to the new dentist with Mary.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up gammon for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Peter Wescombe was a diplomat who helped to save Bletchley Park from being developed into a housing estate

Peter Wescombe, who helped to save Bletchley Park from the developers

Peter Wescombe, who helped to save Bletchley Park from the developers

Peter Wescombe, who has died aged 82, was a diplomat, amateur archaeologist and – later in life – a driving force behind the Bletchley Park Trust, which saved the Second World War code-breaking establishment from being demolished and turned into a housing estate.

In 1991 Bletchley Park, conveniently located near a railway station and set in 55 acres of land, was thought to be worth (with planning permission) more than £3 million. When a plan was conceived to redevelop the site, Wescombe (who had had a house at Bletchley since 1960) joined forces with Dr Peter Jarvis, a retired GP, calling an impromptu meeting of the Bletchley Archaeological & Historical Society.

He later remembered: “Peter Jarvis and I walked despondently out of a council meeting, where, despite our pleading, it had been decided that Bletchley Park should be demolished to make way for 300-plus houses, a petrol station and a small supermarket. In May my wife, Rowena, and I met with Peter and his wife, Sue, at his house… to put forward an idea. We would ask BT, who owned the Park, if we could hold a ‘farewell reunion’ on the site for the wartime code breaking staff simply to say ‘Thank you’ for their magnificent achievements. They agreed.”

As Wescombe admitted, however, they “were not being exactly honest”: the idea was to invite the media to the meeting to publicise a campaign to save Bletchley for the nation.

“From then on,” Wescombe said in January 2014, “it was simply uphill all the way. I now often just stand and look, sometimes in disbelief, at the old, sad wartime huts gleaming in their coats of fresh paint, the grounds being restored to their wartime layout; B Block standing high and proud; groups of visitors and schoolchildren listening intently to guides telling the BP story; and everywhere staff and volunteers hurrying about their business. And I think to myself, ‘Wescombe, we actually made it.’ ”

After the necessary money and backing had been secured to keep the park as a heritage site, Bletchley was successfully transformed into a museum under the aegis of the Bletchley Park Trust, opening to visitors in 1994; this year some 190,000 people have passed through the gates.

Peter John Wescombe was born on January 4 1932 at Eltham, Kent, and brought up by his mother in straitened circumstances at Willesden, north-west London. Aged 14, after a brief period at Willesden Technical College, Peter joined the Shaftesbury Homes’ training ship Arethusa, ending up as leading boy. He was a drummer in the ship’s band, and recalled playing see-saw in the topmasts of the ship, some 180ft above the deck. The boys were not allowed to wear shoes even when there was thick snow on the ground.

In 1949 Wescombe joined the Navy, with which he would serve for the next eight years. While in the Far East with the destroyer Cossack, which was part of the United Nations force during the Korean War, he embarked on a correspondence with Rowena Bayles, a student nurse in Britain. When he returned to Britain in 1953 they met in London, and married after a whirlwind courtship.

After three years working for the CID with Essex police force, in 1960 Wescombe joined the Diplomatic Wireless Service, the arm of the Foreign Office which handles communications between Britain’s missions abroad and London. Over the next three decades his postings included India , Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, Somalia, the Soviet Union and South Africa.

In Lebanon, where he was based between 1963 and 1966, Wescombe developed his lifelong interest in archaeology. He collaborated closely with Lorraine Copeland, who specialised in the archaeology of the Near East and was the wife of the CIA officer Miles Copeland Jnr (their son Stewart Copeland made his name as the drummer with the rock band the Police).

Wescombe devoted much of his spare time in Lebanon to exploring sites with Lorraine Copeland, collecting a wide variety of tools and other artefacts. They discovered ancient stone circle structures on a site at the east end of the runway of Beirut airport, and co-wrote Inventory of Stone-Age Sites in Lebanon, published in 1965.

During his time in Iraq (1976-78), Wescombe worked on a site with Nicholas Postgate (now Professor of Assyriology at Cambridge University), but was unceremoniously booted out of the country along with several colleagues in a diplomatic “tit-for-tat” row with Saddam Hussein.

Wescombe was responsible for the security of diplomatic communications at the British embassy in Moscow between 1982 and 1985, during the last decade of the Cold War. He retired in 1992, shortly after launching the campaign to save Bletchley.

Wescombe gave lectures across North America about intelligence in the Second World War, and was a source of specialised technical knowledge about code-breaking; for example, he acted as an adviser for the 2001 film Enigma.

He was the author of Bletchley Park and the Luftwaffe and (with John Gallehawk) Getting Back into Shark, both published in 2009.

Peter Wescombe is survived by his wife and their two daughters and two sons.

Peter Wescombe, born January 4 1932, died November 25 2014

Guardian:

Indian Students Protest Against Taliban Peshawar School Massacre
Schoolchildren in India mourn for victims of Tuesday’s terror attack at an army-run public school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar. Photograph: Sanjay Sah/Barcroft India

As the world comes together to condemn an unspeakable act of depravity in Pakistan (Report, 17 December), we must unite around one message above all. Whatever political dispute or ideological upheaval may be occurring outside its doors, a school should always remain a safe space for children to learn, to play, to make friends and to laugh. This is non-negotiable.

This atrocity is part of a global pattern in which learning is under attack. The shooting of Malala Yousafzai in 2012, the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria earlier this year, the events in Peshawar – these shocking acts are just the visible extreme of daily incidents of violence and intimidation that keep millions of children – disproportionately girls – from school each day.

The global response to those events has been loud and unequivocal. We will not tolerate schools becoming battlegrounds. We must – and we will – ensure that every child can safely enjoy their right to learn. And as the people of Pakistan try to come to terms with the most senseless and brutal of crimes, our duty to them is to ensure that the voices of those of us who believe in that right are louder than those who think otherwise.
Tanya Barron
Chief executive, Plan UK

• The attack in Pakistan shows that it is ordinary Muslims who bear the brunt of the violence perpetrated by extremists. From the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to Islamic State (Isis), al-Qaida and pro-government sectarian paramilitaries in Iraq and Syria to Buddhist extremists in Burma and extremist Hindus in Gujarat, India, it is Muslims who are the victims. The bombing of Isis by America and its allies has also resulted in civilian fatalities including women and children. Yet Muslims get mentioned as the extremists, not the victims of extremism.
Mohammed Samaana
Belfast

• Growing up as a child in the early 90s in Pakistan, I have fond memories to cherish. Life had much to offer and we made the most of its offerings. I was sent to a mosque with my brother for Qur’an lessons and I cannot remember anything that I would now judge to be unpleasant said by our teacher. To speak badly about a different Islamic sect was unthinkable. Holy days were observed with religious fervour and without antagonism against those who did not celebrate that day. There was peace. There was tolerance. Both of these words now sound naive and have acquired new connotations.

Twenty years ago I could not imagine that one day children would go to school in their uniforms and return in coffins. Pakistanis all over the world are mourning yet another tragedy: the bleakest one. This was not random killing; this was targeted killing of children and their teachers. Add to those killed the greater number of children and adults traumatised by what they saw.

We leave our homes without certainty of ever returning. We turn on our TV, unfold our newspaper, with trembling heart, beseeching: “No, not another, not any more.” We bury our dead again, those who never wished the horror. For how long? The question echoes, echoes, echoes.
Name and address supplied

• On 16 December on Facebook a friend wrote “Pakistan has awoken”. I read that line over and over. We definitely were not awake before this attack. No matter how dire the incidents – malnourishment gripping children’s lives in Tharparkar, a couple being thrown in a brick kiln – we were shaken but still in deep slumber. An awake Pakistan would not look like it did on 16 December. And while we slept, our children were being slaughtered.

As a mother watching those scenes on the television, I was speechless. And broken. Like everyone else I was shocked and absolutely grief-stricken. As time goes on when one feels pain or sorrow, one usually wants to forget, move on. My worry now is that I will forget. we, as a nation, will forget. We will move on. Back to politics, back to watching Pakistan slipping away, being stolen bit by bit by corrupt politicians who claim to represent us, by an unjust judiciary where justice is a word buried among dusty files, back to a place where the poor get nothing and the rich get richer. One horrendous event after another has desensitised us. It is too constant and we are starting to feel we are too little for such big problems. We have become a hopeless lot, for when we are informed of a tragedy, we sigh and then we move on. We move away and we forget. But these images of blood on small bodies, small coffins and grieving mothers are something I do not want to forget. I do not want to forget Pakistan’s black day. I want it imprinted in my mind today, tomorrow, a year from now, five years and 10 years and 40 years from now. I want to feel as angry, as sad, as united as we do at this moment – when the wound is fresh and painful. I want to feel as determined about change as I do today. Because the families of those massacred will always remember it just like they did on 16 December. This sense of mourning should break the walls of opposing political parties, of different political sects, of differing religious clergy, of different places of worship. We are mourning our children together as Pakistanis. The only feeling we should ensure vanishes is hopelessness. We can have no room for such a feeling. It must be buried and never passed on to the future generations of this country.

This anger should now become our resolve. Our resolve from now on should be that we Pakistanis want our country back from extremism. We ordinary citizens ask for the criminals to be brought to justice; we want to know who financed them and who their beneficiaries are. We want to know who fed them, which home or mosque housed them the nights before this massacre. And we want them before us. We want to strangle the channels that nourish these extremists.

Let 16 December be a very dark, sad part of our history, never to be repeated. We want to make our voices heard when we say we do not believe there is any room for extremist religious venom in our land, in our classrooms, in our mosques, in our homes. Let our voices be heard loud and clear when we say extremist barbarianism is not taught in our religion, not taught in our Qur’an, not spoken of in our Hadith. We should be united when we say we will not tolerant extremism any longer.

And if you start to wither in your resolve, in your commitment to these children, in your determination to this country, read this article. Go back to your newsfeeds of 16 December- facebook, newspapers, twitter feeds and relive what we were subjected to on 16 December.

Let us not sway back into slumber again. Our future depends on us staying awake. We want to remember 16 December as that painful day that Pakistan woke up, and we resolved to reclaim our country.
Benazir Jatoi
Islamabad, Pakistan

BESTPIX Sydney Pays Respect To Victims After 16 Hour Siege
Flowers are left at Martin Place in Sydney, Australia, near the scene of a siege in which two people and the hostage-taker were killed. Photograph: Joosep Martinson/Getty Images

This latest act of terrorism by an Islamic militant has to be the last straw for any moderate and civilised Muslim (Three dead in Sydney cafe siege, 16 December). Enough of this madness, this murder and mayhem.

This senseless and inhuman carnage, this slitting of throats, the indiscriminate blowing-up of innocent men, women and children and general blood-letting has set Islam back in the dark ages and has shamed every right-thinking Muslim on the planet. It is we who really pay the price in our daily lives for the havoc they create around the world.

Several Muslim scholars have said the actions of these militant groups are anti-Islamic. So why have they not been declared non-Muslims or ex-communicated by senior clerics and moulvis? These, surely, are the real “kafirs” the Qur’an speaks of?

No longer must we suffer this disgrace in silence. And it is not enough to voice one’s disgust and disapproval privately to family and friends. The time has come for all moderate Muslims to denounce these barbarians publicly and vociferously. And tell the world that what they do is not in our name. And that this menace, this scourge must be exterminated in the same manner that they have adopted: ruthlessly and with brute force.

That will make the world a better and safer place for all of us.
Mohammed Khan
Mumbai, India

• The Sydney siege should not be viewed other than simply a criminal incident. On the same day in the US, an Iraq war veteran killed his ex-wife with six members of her family. Contrary to the incident in Sydney, where media outlets rushed to attribute it to Islamist extremist; no religious meaning was attached to the US shooting rampage. We should abstain from attaching any religious ritual or flavour to these criminal acts. Islam as Christianity are the same as they ever were: peaceful religions that forbid wanton aggression and terrorism. And as Christmas – “the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ”– is fast approaching; there is every need to refrain from empty slogans, political grandstanding and petty rivalries; and adroitly resurrect the gospel message of salvation, mutual forgiveness and reconciliation, humility, tranquillity, cooperation and peace.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London

I agree that nobody should work for free. While “Unpaid internships rig the system. Curb them, now” makes a great Labour soundbite (Opinion, 15 December), it omits salient facts. There is no need to advocate new laws. Interns undertaking work, rather than shadowing, are already entitled to the national minimum wage. They are protected against working excessive hours and have rights to paid holiday and rest breaks. As your article suggests, enforcement agencies may not have the resources to protect these rights, but that is a different matter.

Many employers are aware of and gladly benefit from unpaid labour, particularly during this economic cycle. Most are not ignorant of the law, rather disinclined to impact this cost on their bottom line. As businesses cling to corporate social responsibility credentials, the basic legal (and moral) obligation of paying for work done, whatever workers’ social class, is getting lost.

Work experiences and their durations vary. Short-term work experience must be differentiated from the lengthy “exploitative” internships to which you refer. The former enables individuals to gain an understanding of a vocation before pursuing it. In the legal profession, work placements are typically outside of term time, of short duration (two to four weeks) and often paid. All precisely to encourage equality of access.
Melanie Stancliffe
Partner, Thomas Eggar LLP

• Unpaid internships are not just a scourge for the young. Women confronting a gender pay gap and unaffordable childcare are also sucked in. I am a fortysomething intern with a Cambridge degree and an MA. I spent six years in a part-time office admin job after having kids. I quit to do an MA in hope of getting better work. I am determined not to go back to the ghastly coffee morning circuit of an overqualified woman. But working nearly full-time for nothing while my three kids cook their own suppers seems a poor reward for trying to better my prospects. I’m at the “bank of my husband”, not “mum and dad”, but it is still infantilising and demoralising.
Name and address supplied

• When I was six the war ended and, as “normal” life resumed, the expression “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” became familiar to me. In time I understood it, but I think it shameful that 70 years on we are still rigging things to perpetuate the class war.
Beverly Cochran
Eastbourne, East Sussex

(FILE PHOTO) Police Cuts Announced
Newly qualified Metropolitan police officers take part in their passing out parade at Hendon Police Training College in June 2012. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty

If, as you claim, senior police officers fear that further cuts will lead to “1980s-style emergency-only policing” (Report, 15 December), then I assume they know very little about policing in that decade. When I joined the Metropolitan police in 1980, I went to Clapham police station, where 16 or so police officers were on the streets every shift to patrol and respond to emergency calls. Each of the 12 “beats” had dedicated “home beat officers” to attend to community matters. There was a CID office with about 20 detectives, a proactive crime squad of about 10 officers, and a dedicated team of officers to investigate minor or “beat” crimes. We had a crime prevention officer and our own scenes-of-crime officer. Every report of crime was responded to by an officer in person and every crime was assigned an investigating officer. Moreover, the public could phone the police station or attend the front office and speak to a local police officer who knew the area. Almost every police station provided this level of service – and in those days fully functioning police stations were no more than a few miles apart. I think that, with a few tweaks, the 80s style of policing would suit most people very well.
David Cox
London

• There is no doubt that police forces are going to continue to face financial challenges, and that efficiency savings will need to be made. To that extent, I am in agreement with Bernard Hogan-Howe (Cuts without reform put the public at risk, 15 December). Where we part company is over his proposal for nine “super-forces”. They may well qualify as “super” in terms of size, land area and budget, but whether they would be judged as such in terms of service offered to the public may be completely different.

The strategic alliance between Warwickshire and West Mercia police is achieving the vast majority of savings that would be achieved through a merger, without sacrificing the element that a lot of senior police officers overlook – local democratic accountability. While there are areas like procurement and IT where big savings are still available, none of these require the nuclear option of lumping forces arbitrarily together. We must find ways of making the public relate more closely to the police; gargantuan super-forces will have the opposite effect.
Ron Ball
Police and crime commissioner for Warwickshire

A young rugby fan waves a Welsh flag

‘What I did was to ask whether the words of songs mean anything to us any more,’ writes Dafydd Iwan of songs sung by Wales rugby fans. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

It has been fascinating to listen to the debate regarding Delilah, especially as it is largely based on the false premise that I launched a campaign to get the song banned (Tom Jones says critics shouldn’t take Delilah so literally, 12 December, theguardian.com). Banning songs is not something I would ever advocate – even if it was possible.

What I did in my short article for the Cristnogaeth 21 website was to ask whether the words of songs mean anything to us any more. My song to the survival of Wales against all odds (Yma o Hyd) is usually sung by the choirs in the Millennium Stadium, followed by Delilah and two hymns (Cwm Rhondda and Calon Lân). A strange mix, and great songs to sing, but do the words carry any meaning?

It was in this context that I mentioned that a song about a woman being killed was a strange choice for elevation to the status of a national anthem. All I can hope for – and perhaps that hope will now be partly fulfilled – is that next time you belt out this very singable song, you spare a thought for the poor woman who “laughs no more”, and avoid feeling any sympathy for the poor sod who killed her because he “just couldn’t take any more”.

In the immortal words of Polly Garter: “Thank God we’re a musical nation”.
Dafydd Iwan
Caeathro, Gwynedd

The Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel
Detail from the Wedding Dance by Pieter Bruegel. Photograph: http://www.bridgemanart.com

Reintroduced into the dress code of Henry VIII’s court to cover the embarrassing gap between modishly shortened doublets and gentlemen’s nether hose, the codpiece (Pass notes, 15 December) re-emerged as a must-have fashion item for the chap about town. The sumptuary laws, which dictated what styles, fabrics, colours and sizes of every item of clothing were permitted for which rank of society, resulted in their size and splendour being ever enlarged to emphasise status. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare refers to “the deformed thief [of] fashion”, which made men appear “like the shaven Hercules … his codpiece seems as massy as his club”. Sadly for lovers of innuendo, by the demise of Elizabeth I, codpieces had been replaced by the less elaborate feature that became the modern fly.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

Polly Toynbee does not comment on the ironies of Iain Duncan Smith calling for the poor to change their reproductive behaviour (Opinion, 17 December). Perhaps he thinks that couples who have had two children will cease to want sex – because surely the country’s “most influential Catholic” cannot be advocating birth control?
Philippa Sutton
Newcastle upon Tyne

• Re: Real seniors (Pass notes, 16 December), on a recent visit to Drummond Castle Gardens near Crieff, we were amused and delighted by the categories at the ticket office: adult, super adult and child. Good to find a place that does not patronise its older visitors. I write as a super adult but by no means yet a real super adult.
Rosemary Philip
Edinburgh

• While on holiday in Turkey recently, our guide referred to older people as pensioneers, which we all rather liked. It gives the feeling of purpose and activity to the status.
Gill Jewell
Leeds

• Stockport, Stockport, so good they named it once, / Within the see of Chester, not known for clerical stunts; / Your suffragan can proudly say / “An historic Rector, me” / A cassocked queen who’s not too gay, / Mould-breaking C of E (Church of England’s first female bishop set to be named today, 17 December)!
Fr Alec Mitchell
Manchester

• What should you spend on a Christmas tree (Report, 16 December)? Nothing if you have access to a winter garden. This year my tree consists of sprigs of bay and forsythia twigs. Each year it is different. The lights are 25 years old.
Selina Bates
Truro, Cornwall

• Southerners keen to experience the wonderful, uplifting Sheffield pub carols tradition (Report, 15 December) can do so at the Waterman’s Arms, Richmond on Thames (18 December at 8pm) and the Bricklayers Arms, Putney (21 December at 2pm).
Graham Larkbey
London

 

Independent:

The exposure of the US CIA in Senator Dianne Feinstein’s report is very welcome – but will it be covered up, ignored and forgotten, like previous exposures? (Report, 10 December).

In February 1976 a select report by US Congressman Otis Pike revealed the extent of covert CIA interventions in overseas countries. These involved financial support, paramilitary training, arms shipments, the promotion of armed groups and the funding of civic, religious, professional and labour organisations against progressive and left-wing movements.

As a Member of Parliament I sponsored a debate on foreign policy and morality in 1976, in which I referred to the Pike report and CIA assassination plots. These sometimes involved using criminals against leaders such as Patrice Lumumba, Fidel Castro, Rafael Trujillo, Ngo Dinh Diem, and General Rene Schneider – not all left wingers. The CIA supported right-wing subversive forces in Iran, Vietnam, Guyana, Greece, Italy, Angola, Chile and other Latin American, African and Asian countries.

Henry Kissinger, who is again receiving publicity, assisted official efforts to obstruct and suppress anti-CIA criticisms, and Philip Agee (a former CIA operative) and Mark Hosenball (a journalist) were expelled from Britain for their exposures of CIA activities.

If the CIA’s blatant flouting of human and democratic rights is to end, political leaders in the US, Britain and elsewhere must cease to connive in it as they have done for so long.

Stan Newens
Harlow, Essex

 

Can there be any doubt that it is the implacable duty of the broadcast and print media to demand on behalf of the people, to preserve any remaining faith in our democratic system, that the endlessly delayed Chilcot report be published now and in full; well before the general election? The media should speak as one on this demand and should not stop until they succeed in shaming the establishment into publication.

It will be unconscionable for us to be asked to vote for politicians who have not been forced into responding to Chilcot’s findings. The shaming and shameful revelations of CIA kidnapping and torture and possible UK complicity put the necessity of this immediate publication beyond dispute. But without the efforts of the press, we will not get it.

Keith Farman
St Albans, Hertfordshire

 

I fully endorse calls for UK ministers to face investigation and prosecution for any collusion with CIA-led rendition and torture. (Editorial, “Full disclosure”, 13 December).

However, there is a disreputable convention that one faction of the governing class never knifes its predecessors in power. They are all in it together and in their turn may need blind eyes turned, inconvenient paper trails deleted, skeletons left undisturbed in cupboards and judge-led public enquiries blocked or rendered anodyne.

Michael McCarthy
London W13

 

Muslims are the victims of extremists

The attack on the school in Pakistan shows that it is ordinary Muslims who bear the brunt of the violence perpetrated by extremists. From Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and sectarian paramilitaries in Iraq and Syria, to Buddhist extremists in Burma, to extremist Hindus in Gujarat in India, it is Muslims who are the victims. Bombing IS by America and its allies has also resulted in civilian fatalities including women and children. Ironically, Muslims get mentioned as the extremists not the victims of extremism.

Mohammed Samaana
Belfast 

 

In view of your headline “In God’s name” (17 December), perhaps God’s Christmas message to The Independent and to all of us is, “Not in my name”.

The history of religion demonstrates an increasingly nuanced understanding of the divine nature, but even the ancient Israelites, in a world where violence was the norm, were enlightened enough to shun human sacrifice and respect the foreigner. It has been taking our society long enough to work out the full implications of Jesus’s revolutionary teaching, but surely no one today reading “Blessed are the peacemakers” can be in any doubt where at least the Christian God’s values lie.

Any religion claiming to be pro-humanity should be distancing itself utterly from the carnage perpetrated in Peshawar this week.

John Davis
Reading

 

Down with dogmatic regionalism

“His unbiased opinion… he ought not to sacrifice”: these memorable words of Edmund Burke, along with others in similar vein, must surely be the corrective to the Government’s ill-thought-out proposals for English votes for English laws (report, 17 December).

While one is aware of the power of party whips and constituency organisations, the members of the House of Commons have traditionally and rightly been seen as persons who should not be prisoners of any local, sectional or indeed regional interest.

The correct way out of the West Lothian question dilemma is surely a truly federal structure with both regional assemblies for all who wish them and an overarching legislative body analogous to the American Congress.

Andrew McLuskey
Staines, Surrey

 

The Tories wrap themselves in the Union flag – only to implement policies guaranteed to destroy the Union. They shriek “we’re fighting for Britain”, while alienating our biggest trading partners, threatening in the process inward investment. And – most damning of all – they claim financial success while adding to the country’s debt and impoverishing most of the population.

Tom Palin
Southport, Merseyside

 

In praise of Peterborough

Simon Calder and Hugo Campbell (“Peterborough named the ‘worst place to be without a car in UK’”, 16 December) might be surprised to hear that, after years of battling the slow buses of Bristol, overcrowded Tube trains of London and gridlocked streets of Cambridge, I moved back to my roots in Peterborough in search of a stress-free transport experience. Yes, I need a car, but thanks to Peterborough’s sensible house prices I can afford this, and any environmental guilt that I have is assuaged by the knowledge that Peterborians buy the greenest cars in the country (142g CO2 emissions per kilometer vs 177g/km for Londoners) and the city’s faster traffic flow (19.3mph rush-hour traffic vs 10.1mph in Westminster) reduces the amount of heavily polluting idling.

What’s more, could it be that the combination of low-density urbanisation, an excellent road network and decentralised employment opportunities have prevented clustering of the middle classes around transport hubs and thereby helped to keep our house prices low?

Not everything has worked in the Peterborough experiment, but many things have. Bus services can be improved with investment, cars are becoming ever greener, and our city centre is being rejuvenated. Being “named and shamed” with a “damning verdict” and “vitriol” is undeserved, and risks masking successes from which the overcrowded and unequal south of the country could learn.

Celyn Yorath
Peterborough

 

Sports personalities without a chance

I agree with Matthew Norman (16 December): nice, talented chap though Lewis Hamilton is, Rory McIlroy deserved to win Sports Personality of the Year. One reason, I suspect, is that motor racing is one of the few sports still regularly shown on BBC.

This week, one could watch just 3.5 hours of live sport (cycling and gymnastics) and 6.5 hours of football. For golf, cricket, rugby, horse racing and so on, you have to watch other channels. Perhaps the time has come to wrap the whole thing up – or sell it to BT.

Alan Sonnex
Jordans, Buckinghamshire

 

Woeful attendance at carers’ debate

During an important debate about carers in the House of Lords, there were just nine of their Lordships present. Important facts emerged: for example that carers are allocated 15-minute slots, and are not paid for the time spent travelling between these 15-minute slots, and that the non-payment of the minimum wage was widespread. Their Lordships of course can claim £300 a day for just turning up.

John Humphreys
Milton Keynes

 

No teenagers in France

Susan Chesters’ letter (“Grow old gracefully in French”, 16 December) reminded me why the French have more difficulty with the concept of teenagers than we do, their language not having a conveniently useful term for the numbers 13 to 19 as English does.

David J Williams
Colwyn Bay, North Wales

Times:

Surely voters have a right to know what their politicians have been up to before they go to the polls?

Sir, Your front-page story (“Whitehall shockwaves over Chilcot draft report”, Dec 17) clearly indicates that the outcome of this important but inordinately protracted inquiry will not be known before the general election. That represents a disservice both to democracy generally and specifically to voters’ right to know, in what will inevitably prove a finely balanced election result.

This unsatisfactory state of affairs is exacerbated given the US senate’s excoriating (but laudably open) report into the CIA’s use of torture and rendition, with valid questions outstanding over the UK’s complicity. It is lamentable that UK voters face going into the polling booths in May without knowing the Chilcot inquiry’s findings, no matter how damaging these turn out to be for Tony Blair, David Miliband and Jack Straw, among others.

If nothing else, the current impasse illustrates the flaw in allowing those who face criticism, and their lawyers, to challenge and demand deletions and amendments before publication. After all, we don’t allow defendants in our courts of law to lodge appeals or to demand that judges amend their sentences in advance of a verdict. Perhaps the same principle should apply to inquiries such as Chilcot in future.

Paul Connew
St Albans

Sir, On Monday I watched the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, explain that, with the permission of the Iraqi government, he intended to send some hundreds of soldiers to train the Iraqi army (of which very little is known). The government was also supplying military equipment, surveillance and RAF bombing, because it was a vital British interest, he stated, that ISIL should be “pushed back”. It is all too easy to see how ISIL could draw these British soldiers into fighting, as may be their plan, whatever our policy might be. Mr Fallon had nothing to say about this and how this new “plan” was consistent with assurances that our soldiers would never have a combat role in Iraq.

Now I read that some unnamed lawyers are delaying the publication of the Chilcot inquiry by their attempts to modify or delete criticisms of those who contrived Britain’s disastrous involvement in the invasion of Iraq. It would be interesting to know the basis for the claimed ability to influence and censor criticisms, for there can be little point in a public inquiry if its judgments may be secretly determined by lawyers rather than by Sir John Chilcot himself.

Martin Cozens
Lacock, Wilts

Sir, It will be unconscionable for us to be asked to vote for politicians who have not been forced into responding to Chilcot’s findings. The shaming and shameful revelations of CIA kidnapping and torture, and possible UK complicity, put the necessity of the report’s immediate publication beyond dispute. Without the concerted efforts of the press, however, we will not get it.

Keith Farman
St Albans

Real Christmas trees can improve one’s mental health, according to a study. Can this be true?

Sir, I hope Dr Gatersleben (“How a real tree can spruce up your mental health at Christmas”, Dec 17) builds into her test proper balancing factors for the accompanying stress of choosing an appropriate real tree (height, thickness, spread, colour, etc), haggling over the price, fixing the chosen tree in the back or on top of the car, squeezing it though several doors, setting it up in the best place in the house (is it straight, secure in its base, will it stay upright, fresh and not make a mess for a fortnight or so?).

We have bought our very first artificial tree this year. It looks just like the real thing, is nicely symmetrical, easy to set up and will not make a mess or fall down. If necessary, we can spray it with an appropriate soothing scent.

David Walton

Keinton Mandeville, Somerset

The correct collective noun for geese in flight is a ‘skein’. A gaggle refers to geese with their feet on the ground

Sir, I do not wish to ruffle any feathers, but with reference to your splendid photograph of greylag geese (Dec 16) the correct collective noun for geese in flight is a “skein”.

A gaggle refers to geese with their feet on the ground.

Diz Williams

Prestatyn, Denbighshire

Pooh is not a ‘doll’. Far from it. To say as much proves that he ought to be repatriated

Sir, The very fact that Angela Montefinise of the New York Public Library refers to Pooh as a “doll” should strike fear into the hearts of Pooh-lovers and have them rushing to the barricades to demand that he be sent back to the UK (report, Dec 17). Pooh is most certainly not a doll. He is, of course, “THAT sort of bear”.

Fur should fly.

Suzie Marwood

London SW6

Sir, I’m American. We’ll give Winnie back when you give the Elgin Marbles back to Greece. Deal?

J Reynolds

Wiveliscombe, Somerset

Just how old is ‘old’, exactly? And does ‘thinking young’ really help you to live longer?

Sir, “Don’t act your age: think young, live longer” (Dec 16). I agree. On turning 65, I decided to take up competitive motorsport speed events — sprints and hillclimbs. Part of the motivation for this was to celebrate the 80th “birthday” of my 1934 Frazer Nash. Together we had a very successful season.

MW Vincent

Padbury, Bucks

Sir, I believe that it was George Thomas, one-time Speaker of the House of Commons, who said that he regarded anybody as being old who was five years older than he was.

I fully agree with this.

Jim Shuttleworth (age 89)

Guilsborough, Northants

‘Redaction’ clearly shows the extent of the material that the person releasing the document wishes to hide

Sir, “Redaction” (letter, Dec 17) has a particular meaning. The document in question, for legal or confidential reasons, is shown as originally set out but with the relevant words blacked out so as to make them illegible. Consequently, the reader can see on the face of the document the extent of the material which the person releasing the document wishes to hide.

Tony Radevsky

Falcon Chambers, London EC4

Telegraph:

The hostage crisis in Sydney; training to be a nurse; solar-paneled car parks; green reasons to keep British beef on the menu; holy rabbit, and uses for surplus bubble wrap

A bouquet is pictured inside a secured area at the scene of a hostage taking at Martin Place after it ended in Sydney early December 16, 2014. Heavily armed Australian police stormed a Sydney cafe on Tuesday and freed a number of hostages being held there at gunpoint, in a dramatic end to a 16-hour siege in which three people were killed and four wounded.

A bouquet is pictured inside a secured area at the scene of the hostage taking at Martin Place in Sydney Photo: REUTERS/Jason Reed

SIR – The siege at a café in Sydney should not be viewed as anything other than a criminal act committed by a lunatic with a history of sexual violence and assault. People have been quick to attribute the siege to Islamist extremism. But Islam is the same as it ever was: a peaceful religion that forbids aggression and terrorism.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
London NW2

SIR – We in the West live in a liberal, tolerant society.

Unfortunately, these are the values that play into the hands of the fanatics who have hijacked Islam.

Gerry Doyle
Liverpool

SIR – Despite being played down by Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, it is worth noting that the gunman in Sydney was a self-styled Islamic preacher and scholar.

Islamic fundamentalists need to be challenged, especially by other Muslims, before they destroy the religion.

Y F D Taylor-Smith
São Marcos da Serra, Algarve, Portugal

SIR – Several Muslim scholars have declared that the actions of militant groups are anti-Islamic. So why have the perpetrators not been declared non-Muslims or ex-communicated by senior Islamic clerics?

It is not enough to voice one’s disgust and disapproval privately to family and friends.

The time has come for all moderate Muslims to denounce these barbarians publicly and vociferously, and to tell the world that what they do is not in our name.

Mohammed Khan
Mumbai, India

SIR – The man who took 17 people hostage in Sydney was out on police bail.

As we saw in the tragic case of Lee Rigby, evil perpetrators of these kinds of crimes are often known to the authorities. This suggests that something is wrong with the justice systems in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

Marianne Stevens
Mandurah, Western Australia

SIR – The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the most extreme ever perpetrated, and the CIA was criticised for not preventing them from happening.

The subsequent conduct of the CIA may not have been correct, but those were dark times and they were dealing with a new threat. It was war and still is.

Releasing the report into the CIA’s interrogation programme now has only served to fan the flames of terrorism, to wit the latest outrage in Sydney.

S H Barclay
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

Training to be a nurse

SIR – John Kellie is right to question the usefulness of a three-year stint at university for those contemplating a nursing career (Letters, December 16).

The excellent ward sisters I encountered during the 13 years I chaired an NHS Trust had learnt their profession effectively as apprentices straight from school.

Young people not pursuing higher education should go to their local hospital to try nursing for three months. If they are still interested after looking after patients’ most basic and personal needs, they most likely will make the grade and stick with the job instead of aspiring to pseudo-management positions that have almost nothing to do with hands-on care.

Introducing degrees has changed the nursing profession.

Peter Hayes
Siddington, Cheshire

Out of the question

BBC

SIR – While I agree with Tony Cross (Letters, December 13) that David Dimbleby’s chairmanship of Question Time leaves a lot to be desired, I disagree with the idea that he should “take a leaf out of his brother’s book”. Both of them should listen to a recording of Any Questions chaired by the late Freddie Grisewood to learn how to do the job properly.

Ray Powell
Bramcote, Nottinghamshire

Converted motorist

SIR – I had my three-litre car converted from petrol to LPG last year (Letters, December 13), and it was the best move in motoring that I have ever made. It costs me £20 a week in fuel to run instead of £50, and LPG produces virtually no pollutants.

One would think that the Government would actively support conversion, but the only help that is given to us is a miserly reduction on our road tax.

Colin Crawford
Leicester

SIR – If the Government is serious about reducing the number of diesel vehicles to cut pollutants, then it should put pressure on car manufacturers.

I recently bought a mid-size family car solely for private motoring and a moderate annual mileage. The vast majority of cars with an engine capacity of around two litres and automatic transmission are diesel.

Now I am likely to be penalised in future for something I did not want in the first place, but car makers gave me no choice.

Edwin Guttridge
Martock, Somerset

Solar solutions

Workers installing 320 square metres of solar panels on roof of farmstead barn in Binsham (Reuters)

SIR – Sue Samuelson (Letters, December 15) overlooks how much putting solar panels on the roofs of new houses would increase their cost, making it even harder for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder.

The Government should insist that large commercial buildings are fitted with solar panels. Using agricultural land doesn’t even require concreting over the land, and, if the panels are raised high enough, sheep can still graze below.

Sally Johnson
Cullompton, Devon

SIR – All supermarkets should cover their car parks with solar panels. The land is already used up, customers would be kept dry in poor weather, and a substantial amount of power could be generated.

John Baker
East Bergholt, Suffolk

Buzzards are vital to a balanced ecosystem

SIR – Angus Jacobsen (Letters, December 15) displays a Victorian ignorance of the ecology of the countryside by suggesting that the only reason buzzards should not be exterminated is that their place would be taken by other birds of prey.

The buzzard is an important link in a healthy ecosystem, its diet comprising rabbits, rodents, earthworms and carrion, rather than the bird species Mr Jacobsen mentions. We cannot blame dwindling bird populations on vital predators that have lived in balance with their environment for millennia until man interfered.

David Gardner
Trefin, Pembrokeshire

SIR – Mr Jacobsen has it the wrong way round; predators are in fact controlled by their prey. A consequence of the spread of the rabbit disease myxomatosis in the Fifties was that the buzzard population declined.

In my North Somerset buzzard study area, the birds feed on a wide variety of prey. The most important bird prey are corvids (crows, magpies, jays and jackdaws) and pigeons. After more than 200 years of persecution, buzzards have now recovered to healthier numbers.

Robin Prytherch
Bristol

SIR – I blame the domestic cat for the loss of bird species in Britain. The Mammal Society estimates that 55 million birds are killed by cats in Britain annually.

Like most dog owners, cat owners should pay a licence fee and ensure the cat always wears a collar with a bell attached.

Anne Chadwick
Chichester, Sussex

Green reasons to keep British beef on the menu

Horned hedge trimmer: cattle help to control the spread of weeds on pastures and moors (Matthew Davies/Alamy)

SIR – As a beef producer, I echo Jemima Lewis’s concerns that we are eating less beef and lamb. As we see a decline in the numbers of grazing cattle and sheep on pastures, dales, downs and moors, we accelerate the encroachment of bracken and invasive pastoral weeds. Eventually vast areas will return to unproductive scrub forestry.

This is a problem ignored by Defra, despite the fact that in 2011 the Government’s Foresight Report, produced with help from 400 global experts on population and food security, forecast a national food crisis in 25 to 30 years. The report further emphasised the importance of pastoral red meat production in supplying sustainable diets for our children and grandchildren.

Mike Keeble
East Witton, North Yorkshire

How Britain shapes up

SIR – In Britannia Obscura: Mapping Hidden Britain, Joanne Parker says the shape of Britain resembles a wingless dragon or a bob-tailed dog (Review, December 13).

Surely my old geography teacher at Haverstock Comprehensive School had it spot on: Britain looks like a Victorian lady in a mob hat who is riding a pig.

I live somewhere near the crook of the old lady’s knee. The pig’s head is facing Ireland – an island that is obviously a dog, by the way.

John Powell
Tavistock, Devon

Top-down strategy

Tate Britain’s Christmas tree in 2001, by Yinka Shonibare (JOHN COBB)

SIR – I always cut the top off our Christmas tree (Letters, December 15). My husband inevitably buys one slightly too tall to fit under our stairs so, rather than cutting the bottom off and risk losing the bushiest part of the tree, I find it better to shape and trim from the top, shortening some of the lateral branches to create a pleasing silhouette.

No one ever notices what I have done, but they do comment on the good shape of our tree.

Susan Walker
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

SIR – I was delighted to receive an email from a council harbour authority wishing my family and me “a very Merry Christmas”.

Of course, the disclaimer underneath reads: “The views in this message are personal; they are not necessarily those of the Council.”

There’s much to be said for the old Christmas card.

Malcolm Williams
Chichester, West Sussex

SIR – Ann Hellewell seeks rabbit for her Christmas Eve game pie (Letters, December 16). She should come to County Durham, where our butcher offers fresh “holy rabbit” for sale.

The animals are caught in the churchyard.

Judith Anderson
Mickleton, County Durham

Bubble trouble

SIR – My wife bought a “small” roll of bubble wrap to insulate the greenhouse.

Well, I’ve insulated the greenhouse and double glazed the windows in my shed and garage, but I still have more than 70m of bubble wrap left. What can be done with it?

Paul Molyneux
Heswall, Wirral

Irish Times:

Sir, – Keep Ireland Open would like to support wholeheartedly the sentiments expressed in your editorial (“Encouraging numbers”) and in David Turner’s letter (December 16th).

We have been unsuccessfully campaigning for many years. The four main political parties – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin (yes, even Sinn Finn!) have run a mile from any legislative proposal that might just possibly offend the farming community.

It is now obvious that walking tourism cannot compete with other European countries. An article in the winter issue of Walk magazine – the official organ of the immensely influential Ramblers organisation – singled out Ireland as having the least walker-friendly regime in Europe. A sad fact with which we must agree. Walking visitors to other European countries are assured of a warm welcome, with no nasty “keep out” signs. They will encounter well-marked and maintained trails and a freedom to roam in upland areas.

The latest statistics tell us that farmers represent less than 4 per cent of our population.

An aphorism mentioning tails and dogs comes to mind. – Yours, etc,

ROGER GARLAND,

Chairman,

Keep Ireland Open,

Butterfield Drive,

Dublin 14.

Sir, – David Turner rightly bemoans the dearth of long-distance walking trails in Ireland, and the lack of attraction for the millions of Europeans and others who like to take a holiday on foot, or on two wheels.

To give Fáilte Ireland its due, it has belatedly begun to realise that it missed an important trend; its recent research showed that many more Germans would visit our shores if we had sufficient mileage of interconnected trails. Our much-lauded 43km greenway in Mayo pales into insignificance by comparison with the 70,000km that can be enjoyed in Germany.

So why don’t we have our own network and why don’t we go after the thousands of jobs that would result from it?

It’s very simple. Our politicians don’t understand the potential of our hundreds of miles of canal and river navigation towpaths or our disused railways. They don’t understand the need for long trails, and instead they favour short routes going from nowhere to nowhere so that TDs can be seen to deliver funding locally. They prefer to block greenway development on abandoned rail lines because vague promises of trains in the future are easier and don’t require any action, and because the squatters who are slowly acquiring these State-owned assets by adverse possession mustn’t be discommoded.

Mostly though, they just don’t understand. They don’t understand that tourists have no desire to holiday with their families along busy roads. They don’t understand that nobody will come to Ireland to spend a week cycling up and down the Mayo Greenway.

A couple of years back, a Mayo county councillor suggested that tourists who fancied a walking holiday could use the Castlebar ring road. Clearly our politicians have a lot of catching up to do before tourism policies match the realities of the market. – Yours, etc,

JOHN MULLIGAN,

Boyle,

Co Roscommon.

A chara, – Your editorial was spot-on. Our limited public countryside access, compared to that of our competitors, is hindering our tourism development. There is no legal right in Ireland to walk in our countryside or mountains areas. Rural areas, in particular, are losing out. They have most to gain from ecotourism if walkers had some legal access as enjoyed in other countries. – Is mise,

S O’CUINN

An Charraig Dhubh,

Baile Átha Cliath.

Sir, – With a British general election due in early 2015, the electoral map there is becoming more complex following the Scottish referendum and the anticipated rise in electoral popularity of the Scottish nationalists, at the expense of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will, in all probability, be faced with the prospect of leading a coalition or minority government.

Against that background, the current budgetary impasse in Northern Ireland poses an interesting dilemma for Sinn Féin, in particular.

With its ongoing abstentionist policy in Westminster and no threat of IRA violence, does Sinn Féin have any political leverage with any prospective UK prime minister?

Any further budget concessions by David Cameron will be garnered by DUP/UUP influence, not Sinn Féin, with an eye to post-election support at Westminster.

Perhaps it is time for Sinn Féin to take up its Westminster seats and become a proper democratic party with some real influence in UK politics. – Yours, etc,

PETER MOLLOY,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The referendum-fatigued electorate will surely be bewildered by the news that we are to have a constitutional poll on whether or not to lower the age of presidential candidates from 35 to 21 (“Referendums on same-sex marriage and voting age for May 2015”, December 16th).

One can scarcely think of an issue which could be more utterly removed from the day-to-day worries of voters.

Where exactly did this proposal come from? It didn’t feature in the manifestos of either Fine Gael or Labour at the 2011 general election, and nor was it included in the Programme for Government. The only party which proposed such a referendum was Fianna Fáil, which was hit hard in that election, suggesting there wasn’t much demand for it on the doorsteps.

The first time the idea reappeared after the election was at a meeting of the 100-strong “Constitutional Convention” in Malahide in January 2013, where those present took it upon themselves to put forward this proposal. Even at that tiny gathering, the proposed amendment only garnered a bare majority of those present, with 50 in favour carrying the day due to a small number of abstentions.

The Government has now baulked at the possibility of rejecting the idea, despite the fact that there seems to be no public appetite for it whatsoever – apart, that is, from 50 people in a room in Malahide a full two years ago. And on the back of this total non-issue, TDs from both Government parties will as usual be whipped through the lobbies to vote for a Bill to call the referendum, despite the fact that neither party has ever supported the idea, and that no-one anywhere views it as an issue of even incidental importance.

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, ordinary people will continue to focus on getting a job, paying the bills and caring for their families. – Yours, etc,

THOMAS RYAN, BL

Harolds Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Why are we having a “plebiscite” on the ownership of our water resources and a “referendum” on same-sex marraige ? Which one is legally binding? – Yours, etc,

EILEEN O’SULLIVAN,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

A chara, – Institutional care has for decades been internationally recognised not to be suitable for people with intellectual disability. Institutional living not only denies people their basic human rights compared to normal household living in ordinary, open integrated community settings, but furthermore is known to lend itself to abusive practices.

As a paediatrician specialising in intellectual disability, I can well recall the outcry among the many who were committed to the community care model, following the announcement that the building of an institution for people with intellectual disability in Swinford was to go ahead. At the time, there was already an excellent, countywide, community-based service for children with intellectual disability in Co Mayo, and people wanted similar services to be extended to adults. Most of those professionally involved with the intellectual disability services in the west of Ireland signed a document petitioning the health authorities not to proceed with the plan for the institution, but instead to invest the money available in developing community services.

Unfortunately, with an election looming, it was considered politically expedient to build a large institution, and so the voice of the people was ignored. Not for the first time, the provision of jobs trumped all considerations of appropriate care for the marginalised.

Minister of State for Disability Kathleen Lynch should take immediate action, and put in place a plan to close Áras Attracta within a reasonable time, and move on to community care, rather than waste time and money endeavouring to change that which is most likely inherently unchangeable. – Is mise,

Dr SINEAD O’NUALLAIN,

Bearna, Co Galway.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole may be right or he may be wrong when he says that the Economic Management Council is “dominated by civil servants and policy advisers” (“Gang of four rule tramples Cabinet and Constitution”, Opinion & Analysis, December 16th).

We could have done with an Economic Management Council, dominated by civil servants and policy advisers, during the years of the boom. It might have prevented the people at the head of the government, financial institutions, etc, from bankrupting this country and contributing to its needing an €80 bilion bailout. – Yours, etc,

A LEAVY,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Given the refusal of our “democratic” politicians to give up the power which they took for themselves with no reference to the citizens of the Republic, it is clear that we were very wise to refuse to grant them the powers they asked for in the rushed and ill-prepared referendum of October 2011 on the 30th Amendment to the Constitution [Oireachtas inquiries].

In assuming that we would approve the amendment simply because we were asked to do, Fine Gael and Labour appear to have begun to lose touch with reality at a very early stage in this Dáil. I seem to remember that the Taoiseach complained that it was not passed because we of the non-elite did not understand the terms. It probably never crossed his mind that we refused because we had so much reason to distrust politicians.

Pundits regularly lecture us on the need to behave as a grown-up electorate. I believe that most Irish voters are much more grown-up than our senior politicians and, I hope, much less hypocritical. – Yours, etc,

MAEVE KENNEDY,

Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dr Vincent Kenny (December 17th) points to a “statistical correlation” between alcohol outlet density and health harms as disclosed in a recent Scottish study. Correlation and causation are quite different. Indeed, the authors of the study to which he refers expressly state that, “We cannot conclude that the relationship is causal” and point to the need for “further analyses” and “better quality time-series licensing statistics”. – Yours, etc,

JACK CUMMINS,

Glasgow.

Sir, – The concern about excessive alcohol consumption is not new, nor particularly Irish. In the 18th century, the British elite expressed horror at the alcohol consumption of the “lower classes” in London, with gin being of particular concern.

Now, we again express our concern at cheap alcohol – with even the working class drinking cheap wine! Who knows where it will end? Cheap cognac? It is time to act and make sure that cognac remains the reserve of the bankers we bailed out. – Yours, etc,

GEARÓID Ó LOINGSIGH,

Bogotá, Colombia.

Sir, – It was heartening to read Patsy McGarry’s tribute to missionaries and gardaí (“Goodwill to all NGOs, gardaí and the church”, Rite & Reason, December 16th).

May I add Sr Mary Sweeney of Dungloe, Donegal, working in Sierra Leone for 40 years? I heard her heart-rending account of the Ebola crisis now raging around her school on RTE’s Morning Ireland. She told of one boy who has lost every single member of his enlarged family. She and her community are struggling to fight the disease in their new clinic under terrible conditions. Her school was levelled during the civil war but she rebuilt it and no doubt her faith and courage will endure through this trial too. Yes, as Patsy says, it “feels great to be Irish” but let’s continue to support and cherish those on the front lines. – Yours, etc,

ALEX REID

Donegal Town.

Sir, – I read that Oireachtas banking inquiry committee chairman Ciaran Lynch has said “we can’t made adverse findings against an individual”, adding that it could make only findings of fact (“Finnish and Canadian financial experts to be first witnesses in banking inquiry”, December 16th).

I immediately looked at the membership of the committee but to my amazement observed no trace of a quantum physicist among its number.

With operating conditions like that, it’s enough to make Schrödinger’s cat laugh. – Yours, etc,

MALACHY THOMPSON,

Renmore,

Galway.

Sir, – Regarding the ECB’s refusal to appear before the joint committee of inquiry into the banking crisis, is it a case of Hamlet without the protagonist? – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Dalkey,

Co Dublin

Sir, – Instead of thanking members of Dáil Éireann for supporting the motion which called on the Government to “officially recognise the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital”, and praising successive Irish governments for remaining committed to the “establishment of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza, existing alongside and at peace with the state of Israel” (December 16th), Ambassador Ahmad Abdelrazek should have written an open letter to the leaders of Hamas – part of the so-called unity government which he represents – asking them to drop their ongoing call for the destruction of the state of Israel. – Yours, etc,

DAVID M ABRAHAMSON,

Glenageary,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – William Hederman’s article about protest (“Protest works – if it breaks rules”, Weekend, December 13th) is a significant contribution to the debate about democracy and power.

If you take away protest, and the right to campaign on issues without being hounded or negatively labelled in all sorts of way, democracy is a hollow sham.

Protest works at many different levels (just as power does not reside only in the Oireachtas). Protest does not always have to break rules to work – but it does need to be imaginative, appropriate to the campaign and the stage it is at, and also to the level of support. – Yours, etc,

ROB FAIRMICHAEL,

Belfast.

Sir, – Further to the suggestion that mischievous dogs should spend some time in “pugatory” (December 16th), some comforting pointers can be found in the writings of St Bernard. – Yours, etc

BEN DUNDON,

Dublin 24.

Sir, – Even the dogs in the street know only cats are admitted into “purrgatory”. My deepest apologies. – Yours, etc,

KEVIN RAFFERTY,

Waterford.

Sir, – Gender (and women’s) studies centres may be “few” in number, as Dr Chryssa Dislis mentions (December 17th), but the viewpoints they promote imbue what is taught in a wide variety of courses in the humanities and social sciences. – Yours, etc,

TOM KINDLON,

Castleknock, Dublin 15.

Sir, – A motorist I encountered while crossing the Malahide road recently clearly does not intend to include the “green man” on her Christmas presents list. She completely ignored the poor divil. – Yours, etc,

TOM GILSENAN,

Beaumont, Dublin 9.

Irish Independent:

Indian Muslim children pray for the victims of the Peshawar attack. Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

Indian Muslim children pray for the victims of the Peshawar attack. Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

I, like most of the world, was shattered by the news of the slaughter of 132 children at their school in Pakistan. They were innocent and vulnerable and should never have been targets.

All over the world, in the run up to the birth of an infant in a stable, people are racing about spending money and stressing themselves out, in this little infant’s name who was born with nothing.

Our values have become shallow. Human life is the most precious gift of all. To be human is to be great. Yet look at how we are treating each other. A spiritual void has opened up and it is filling with darkness.

Even if one has no faith, from December 21 a new light comes and the days begin to stretch again. Let us embrace the light that is in us all, and nurture hope rather than hate.

Jed Thomas, Connemara, Co Galway

 

A letter to myself

If you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. It doesn’t matter. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off to people at the bottom, forget it. They will look up at you with envy. Status will get you nowhere. What will get you somewhere is being your authentic self. If you’ve got something to say – say it. Somewhere to be – get there. Something to do – do it. Nothing to say – shut up. Someone to love – love ‘em up! Trust me, you’ll sleep better at night!

So many people walk around with their eyes half-closed. Closed to everything and everyone around them. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things and, at the same time, pushing further away from them what matters most. By devoting yourself to loving others and yourself, you create a space within you to something that gives you purpose, meaning and inner peace. Don’t be afraid to walk away from situations or relationships which don’t serve you. Rather, spend your energy searching and reaching for something that serves, feeds and replenishes your soul. Most importantly, forgive all who wronged you, but first you must forgive yourself. Life is too short to spend time thinking of “what ifs”. There is much to be grateful for. Grateful that when you close your eyes at night you wake up to a beautiful tomorrow.

Be thankful for being you. For being here. For having the courage to walk away and stand up for what is right because at the end of this – when you’re grey and wrinkly – look back at what you’ve accomplished and achieved in life and let out a laugh knowing that you let yourself live, your spirit soar and your soul search. For whatever you did do on this Earth, you’ve got to be proud.

To you – my beautiful self. I love you always.

Benita Lennon, Address with editor

 

Drugs problem must be tackled

Since the launch of RTE’s crusade on homelessness, I can’t help but feel that this country doesn’t have a homelessness problem – it has a drugs problem. I don’t doubt the need for affordable housing, but all the new houses in the world won’t end the homeless problem, as so many on our streets are addicts.

The media chose to represent the death of a man on the streets close to Leinster House as the death of a victim of economic austerity and lack of social housing, rather than as a victim of the poison of drugs.

The late Tony Gregory always highlighted this cancer on our streets, which can be seen in every urban area in this country. However, since his passing it no longer seems a fashionable topic in Montrose. As long as we fail to acknowledge that heroin is still eating away at the very heart of our society, not only will homelessness continue to grow, but it will be the least of our problems.

Peter Cosgrove, Wellingtonbridge, Co Wexford

 

The truth behind building crisis

I refer to Donal O’Donovan’s comment on the lack of supply of new houses and I have to say I disagree with his assertions.

The reasons new houses are not being built are as follows:

1. Most of the large-volume builders which built the three-bedroom semis are in Nama or are gone bust for a variety of reasons.

2. Our tradespeople in the 30 to 50 age bracket are gone in the last wave of post-Celtic Tiger emigration.

3. Any new builder who would stick his head over the parapet and lay out his own money would be crazy – and he will not be getting any risk capital from the state-owned banks.

4. Should a builder start up in the morning he would be descended on by public service planners, health and safety persons and Revenue inspectors who have been maintained at full strength over the last five years and are sitting there waiting to get on the road. It would not be worth the hassle and the red tape.

5. Finally, who can afford or would want a family home when the Government and society in general appear to be anti-family in its attitude?

Daniel Coleman, Carrigrohane, Co Cork

 

Everyone has a right to privacy

A right to a private life is a value under the UN Charter of Human Rights. How, then, is it okay for TV stations to record and broadcast the humiliation of vulnerable and fearful – yet capable of understanding – elderly women in Aras Attracta’s Bungalow 3 to millions of viewers?

We viewed their fear of being punished, being used by the “couldn’t-care-lessers” to bully them.

They understand fear. They feel. Would someone please ask them – as they alone have this unique experience to answer authoritatively – whether more money should be spent on broadcasting more TV reports humiliating more people, or in a more intelligent way?

Jim Fitzgibbon, Ballykeeran, Co Westmeath

 

Fresh political blood needed

I’m surprised Mr A Leavy could think that if there had been a Fiscal Council during the Celtic Tiger years, that it would have led to better decision-making and that we could have avoided the mess the country is in. The Fiscal Council struggles now, so I don’t see why it would have been any better in years gone by.

The reason the country is in such a mess – and people like me can’t make our living in our own country and have to emigrate – is not because there wasn’t a Fiscal Council, nor that a Fine Gael/Labour government would have acted any differently to the various Fianna Fail led ones.

It is because the poor decision-making is due to the nature of the Irish character. Too many voted for the same tired old grey faces of Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail for decades. Meanwhile, they moaned about how nothing changes and the cronyism, shoddy standards and public squalor continues. They are now so deluded that they think Sinn Fein/IRA is the solution.

Just because Enda Kenny is now Taoiseach doesn’t mean he magically changed overnight from the parish pump TD he always was. Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin are great gas for throwing out the smart-mouth one-liners, but are we seriously meant to think a small-time teacher and a union official are capable of making the sort of decisions that professional managers are only equipped to make after years of direct experience and work towards professional qualifications?

A Fiscal Council is not needed in Ireland. Instead what is needed are new candidates to stand for political office who have never stood for election to anything ever before. In that way you can still vote for a normal political party or group, but for a new candidate and in the process retain the stability of the party system, but replace the people within it with new untainted people.

Desmond FitzGerald, Canary Wharf, London

Irish Independent

Chairs

December 17, 2014

17 December 2014 Chairs

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I go out to pick up Michael and Astrid’s two chairs.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up rabbit for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Sheila Stewart, Scottish folk singer

Sheila Stewart Photo: TOPIC RECORDS

Sheila Stewart, who has died aged 79, was one of Scotland’s most popular folk singers and helped to fuel the British folk song revival of the 1950s and 1960s. The last of the Stewarts of Blairgowrie, a singing dynasty of travellers, she was acclaimed not only for her full-blooded unaccompanied singing but also for popularising a huge fund of traditional ballads which had been preserved for generations by her family.

A colourful character with a ready wit and gift for storytelling, in 1976 Sheila Stewart was invited to perform at the United States bicentennial celebrations in Washington, DC, where she met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at an official reception byefore a show. “The Duke of Edinburgh says to the man next to him ‘Can we go down to the Mall and hear Sheila sing?’ ” she recalled. “And the man says ‘Sorry, Your Highness, security won’t allow it’, and he says ‘—- security!’ ”

Later on she was accosted by two men in dark glasses who demanded she accompany them: “They put me in this long limo – I thought they were Mafia! And they take me to the White House and there’s President Ford and his wife and the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who says to me ‘I told you I was hearing you sing.’ So I had tea in the White House and sang for them for two hours.”

Sheila Stewart’s largest audience, however, was at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, in 1982 when she sang in front of 385,000 people who had come to see Pope John Paul II. “When they asked me to sing for the Pope, I says I cannae do that, I’m not a Catholic.’ And they said: ‘Oh, the Pope won’t bother,’ ” she recalled. “So I bought a pair of green shoes to wear, and when he gets out of the Popemobile, he says: ‘I like your shoes’, and puts his hand on me and blesses me. So I went in front to the mike … I sing Ewan MacColl’s Moving-On Song.” The following day a newspaper report observed that “only two things silenced the crowd – the Pope’s arrival and Sheila’s singing”.

Sheila Stewart was born on July 7 1935 in a stable behind the Angus Hotel at Blairgowrie, Perthshire, after an argument between her mother and grandmother had rendered her parents homeless. Her mother Belle – also a singer – had been born in a tent, and the family was accustomed to the travelling way of life, surviving through hawking, besom-making and seasonal farm work. Music was a key part of the family’s itinerant lifestyle, which included regular trips to Ireland , and Sheila’s father and grandfather were well-known Highland pipers. At harvest time they would often meet up with fellow members of the travelling community to sing, play and share stories around the camp fire.

Sheila was five when she learnt her first song, and her singing became a regular feature of family gatherings. A notable characteristic of her style was the decorative “conyach” – an ill-defined term suggesting a gift for conveying the emotional feeling of a ballad – with which she imbued many of the oldest and most epic songs in the canon of Scottish folk song, notably The Twa Brothers and The Bonnie Hoose Of Arlie.

It was a tough existence. Travellers were the victims of much prejudice, and Sheila was frequently bullied at school; but life began to change in the mid-1950s when the song collector Hamish Henderson arrived to record the family’s vast repertoire of songs. Until that point the Stewarts had never performed in a formal setting, and they were initially somewhat self-conscious. But as a result of Henderson’s recordings for Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies, the Stewarts’ repertoire became a key source of the folk revival in Britain, with ancient ballads such as Young Jamie Foyers, Bogie’s Bonnie Belle and Queen Among the Heather passing into the common repertoire.

Sheila Stewart, Scottish folk singer

At 16, Sheila rebelled and gave up the travelling life to work as a waitress. She then spent a brief spell in the Army . In 1956 she married a non-traveller, Ian McGregor, with whom she had four children and eventually moved to Stoke Newington, north London, where in the early 1960s her husband found work as a joiner helping to build the new Victoria underground line.

There Sheila became involved in the folk song club movement after meeting Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, who made many recordings of her family and featured them in their documentary The Travelling People. The Stewarts became a popular festival and folk club act as a result, and released two LPs, The Stewarts Of Blair (1965) and The Travelling Stewarts (1968), in addition to being included on many other compilations.

Ian McGregor died suddenly in 1977, after he and Sheila had returned to Scotland. As the children grew up and left home, she took a series of jobs, including a brief period as a molecatcher. For a time she lived in Yorkshire , working as a liaison officer for travellers in Sheffield, Leeds and Bradford. She also taught in schools and lectured in America.

Sheila Stewart performed whenever she could with her mother Belle and her sister Cathie, and after Belle’s death in 1997 she undertook solo work, touring internationally and releasing a solo album, From the Heart of the Tradition (1998). Altogether she recorded more than 80 ballads.

She also wrote a biography of her mother, Queen Among the Heather (2006), followed by an autobiography, A Traveller’s Life (2011). She appeared as a café owner and singer in the 2012 Jamie Chambers film Blackbird .

Sheila Stewart was appointed MBE in 2006.

Her children survive her.

Sheila Stewart, born July 7 1935, died December 9 2014

Guardian:

Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy
Jim Murphy: ‘Nicola Sturgeon will have no trouble in representing him as the man sent to run the branch office.’ Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

You report that Jim Murphy wants “to press Scottish Labour to rewrite clause four of its constitution to emphasise that the party will act ‘in the national interest of Scotland’”. Clause IV is more than just warm sentiments. It is 345 succinctly crafted words, expressing the “principles” on which “Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern”.

It was under paragraph 2(c) that the original principle of devolution was born and developed: “we work for … an open democracy, in which government is held to account by the people [and] decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect”.

However, political events in Scotland have clearly moved on. Devolution never envisaged national separation. The Tories are unambiguously unionists. The Lib Dems (according to their constitution) are federalists. A new form of words ought now to be found to distinguish Labour’s new principles of government for devolved nations (bearing in mind that, constitutionally, a Scottish Labour party cannot embrace national independence).

If the issue of national integrity is to be so redefined, it is also surely right that Labour clarifies its governing principles over its political and economic relations with Europe. A new cascading and embracing principle of devolution and nationalism is again surely well overdue. On the broader level, remember, clause IV was the defining product of New Labour. So, yes, perhaps Murphy is right to want to go back to first principles.
Mike Allott
Eastleigh, Hampshire

• I would love to believe that Jim Murphy is the man for the job (Editorial: Jim Murphy has a huge task ahead. All Labour supporters should unite behind him, 15 December). But can I really accept that a New Labour Blairite, in favour of Trident, who supported the war in Iraq, can reach out to the people who deserted Labour to vote yes? Or people such as me who deserted Labour over the Iraq war? Nicola Sturgeon will have no trouble in representing him as the man sent to run the branch office.
Margaret Squires
Fife

• With the election of Jim Murphy (with more than a hint of “or else!” from Labour’s London HQ), even the most delusional Labourite north of Hadrian’s Wall can no longer kid themselves that the “people’s party” is anything more than Tories in red rosettes.

Know your place and obey your betters is the Labour way, and it’s a mark of how out of touch with the electorate they’ve become that they still think Scots will vote for them anyway. With Labour offering nothing but more misery for the masses and more tax breaks for “wealth creators”, they’re likely to find most core voters either staying at home next polling day or voting SNP, Green or Ukip to give them a well-earned bloody nose.
Mark Boyle
Johnstone, Renfrewshire

• If Jim Murphy is to regain the lost Scottish Labour party supporters by reaching out to those who want “a fair deal”, he will have to reconsider his position on Trident. His rivals in Scotland, the SNP and the Greens, have clear policies on phasing it out. Yet all Murphy can do is mutter the threadbare argument that Britain needs “a strong defence”. But Trident isn’t “defence” and it cannot keep anyone in Scotland or the UK secure. It also provokes proliferation and will cost upwards of £100bn to renew, when “austerity” is biting so hard. He would be better advised to start working with other members in the Labour party to support the Austrian pledge at the recent Vienna conference on starting negotiations for a global ban on nuclear weapons.
Rae Street
Littleborough, Lancashire

• Jim Murphy cannot go it alone and ignore the UK Labour party (Murphy’s law: Scottish party will act in the national interest, 15 December) as the “Scottish” Labour party is registered as an accounting unit of the Labour party with the Electoral Commission and is therefore not a separately registered political party under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. As such Scottish Labour does not have a “party leader”, although Murphy leads the Scottish division of the UK party, having been elected by members in 2014. At party conferences he appears under the title “leader of the Labour party in Scotland”. He is the branch manager of the aforesaid accounting unit of the UK Labour party.
Jim McLean
London

• As a long-standing member of Unite in Scotland I take issue with your editorial’s assertion that, in opposing Jim Murphy, Unite showed itself to be out of touch with its members in Scotland.

Many Unite members have opted out of the political levy in protest against its being used to support a Labour party which has shown itself to be less and less concerned with social justice and the rights of workers. They were thus ineligible to vote in the leadership election. Murphy’s record of support for Trident, for continuing austerity and for opposition to devo max might make him representative of Labour party parliamentarians, but not of many trade unionists.

Indeed a major future issue for Unite will be to assess how the political fund is used and to consider changing the present policy, whereby the Labour party is the only political party to be financially supported.
Rev David Mumford
Brechin, Angus

Ian Jack (13 December) is surely right to recall that many of Scotland’s left-leading political class tend to be conspicuous by their absence at political protests at the Gare Loch and elsewhere.

He identifies the Scottish universities as a breeding ground for plausible-sounding social democrats, eyes set firmly on their own main chance, but he perhaps plays down the role of the schools in this process. A friend of mine, a keen observer of all things political, once observed of a later generation of Labour politicians that “they all looked like they’d been head boy”. Perhaps even more cuttingly, he went on, “Christ, you wouldn’t want any of these on your side in a fight would you?”
Alistair Richardson
Stirling

• Jim Murphy’s credentials as worthy of the top Labour job in Scotland seem to have been boosted by the news that he slept in a drawer as a baby. So did many a working-class baby in the 50s. I, too, was put into a chest of drawers when I was born in a back-to-back house in Leeds, with a tin bath, shared toilet and dripping sandwiches for tea. Can I be leader of the Labour party please?
Maggie Lyons
Sheffield

Mary Berry
Mary Berry. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/REX

Why is Mary Berry referred to as “the 79-year-old TV judge” (Media, 15 December) when the age of not one of the other celebrities was mentioned in this article? Is it ageism, or sexism, or both?
Ann Lynch
Skipton, North Yorkshire

• Martin Griffiths, CEO of Stagecoach, claims that his and other private operators’ input have delivered Europe’s “best, safest and fastest growing railway” (Letters, 13 December). These claims are the opposite of the truth for anyone who has travelled on railways in Europe, which are clean, uncrowded, frequent, punctual and affordable. Trains in the UK are none of the above; one cannot help admiring the chutzpah of Mr Griffiths.
Peter Brandt
Oxford

Zoe Williams (15 December) highlights a cruel aspect of government policy. Natalie Engel is surely being denied a basic human right that is not denied to foreign citizens in prison. If they have been able to challenge deportation in the European court of human rights, Engel should be able to do so even if her husband, as a South African, has no such right.
John Pelling
Coddenham, Suffolk

• So Chelsea, a stonkingly rich football club, is to pay its staff a living wage at last (Report, 12 December). Are we supposed to applaud?
Gwyn Jones
Windermere, Cumbria

• You devote a page to the apparent injustice of Rory McIlroy’s failure to win BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year 2014 (15 December). This is an award previously bestowed upon such sporting giants  as Princess Anne and Zara Phillips…
Bob Merrison
Barking, Essex

Enoch Powell
‘No one should attempt to rehabilitate either Powell or his vile ideas, and his kind of overt racism is, fortunately, now absent from mainstream politics.’ Photograph: ITV/REX

Anne McElvoy writes (13 December) that Enoch Powell was many things. The one thing she doesn’t mention is that he was a racist. Nor, apparently, were his followers, many of whom “were neither racist nor wholly opposed to immigration”. It didn’t feel like that at the time. My mixed-race English father took for a while to double-barrelling his name to make it look more Anglo-Saxon. To her credit, my white English mother would have none of this. Powell, as Hanif Kureishi rightly points out in a piece on the same day, instilled real fear in many immigrant communities, and played a major role in instigating the wave of popular white racism from which the National Front and other fascist organisations profited in the 1970s. No one should attempt to rehabilitate either Powell or his vile ideas, and his kind of overt racism is, fortunately, now absent from mainstream politics. But the British right are emulating their US counterparts, for whom to be called a racist is worse than to hold racist views (which, in their surrealist world, like Magritte’s pipe, are not racist). Time, to use a good Anglo-Saxon expression, to call a spade a spade. Racism, albeit more subtly manifested than Powellism, is poisoning the sphere of public discourse, and politicians of all the main parties are shamefully pandering to it.
Professor Chris Sinha
Norwich

• Ian Jack’s review of Boris Johnson’s encomium on Winston Churchill (13 December) refers sceptically to the Goveian view which reduces history to the achievements of individuals. But a few pages on, Hanif Kureishi appears to do just that in his lucid but rather simplistic piece on Enoch Powell. Demonising Powell doesn’t help to deepen our understanding. If, as Kureishi argues, Britain was being remade into a multicultural haven, evident in today’s cosmopolitan London (which is not Britain), then it was also being unmade, and many natives, especially some members of the white working and lower-middle classes – historically, the foundation of fascist movements – felt threatened by the changes happening around them. Their British identity was, in part, predicated on a notion of whiteness – the origins of which predated Powell – that was being threatened by post-second world war changes, domestic and international, economic and ideological. By articulating their fears, Powell’s notorious speech may have given them a mainstream voice, thereby averting a greater conflagration. A decade after Powell’s infamous speech, Margaret Thatcher also reached out to the corners of benighted Britain with a reference to fears that the country would be “swamped by people with a different culture”. However distasteful the racist and anti-immigration voices, they must be included in the national debate.
Ferdinand Dennis
London

faith illustration
Celebrations for the season, and for a story that has evolved. Photograph: Gary Kempston

Celebration of the season

David Mitchell made one quite serious mistake in his article about the Christmas season (12 December). He suggested that at that time of year we had nothing to celebrate. This is very far from the point (literally). Yule is the opposite point on the wheel of seasons from midsummer. To celebrate yuletide is to celebrate the day after which the hours of sunlight increase.

Many modern countries celebrate this rather than Christ’s birthday. The only word in some Baltic nations for Christmas is the translation of yule. Jul in Denmark, joulu in Finland, and Sweden’s is julen. So in the land of Father Christmas, Finland, he is called Joulupukki, which translates as the yule buck. But, as stories mutate he is just the man in red who arrives pulled by the yule buck.
Andrew Youd
Turku, Finland

We must save the NHS

We are very fortunate to have the NHS and in no way would I wish to see it privatised (5 December). However, I see a problem that every government kicks down the road. The very success of the NHS contains the seeds of its own destruction.

When the NHS was established in the 1950s medicine was a great deal simpler. You got your medicines, then much cheaper, or you went to hospital to have broken bones healed, or to die.

Now scientific advances have made operations much more complex and expensive, with new hips, kidney, liver and heart transplants. Dying is not an option. In addition, because we are living much longer the care and other costs are mounting exponentially. Scientific advance will continue so the NHS will become a bottomless pit of expense. So what is the solution?

One could cap the type of operations available on the NHS to limit the cost. However, we do not want health only available to the wealthy and that would be the inevitable effect. This problem cannot be solved by paying the NHS staff peanuts, which is the present policy. Nor can it be entirely solved by automation. No one wants their hand held or brow mopped by a robot. Similarly it would not be acceptable to limit treatment to those under a certain age.

I do not see the answer to the problem, but it needs to be faced by us all and not just left to the government of the day to find an ad hoc solution.
Geoffrey H Levy
Andover, UK

Truth about cats and humans

The article in your 21 November issue about the domestication of cats has no clue about ecology. The closing remark about cats killing lovable little creatures is astonishing. Whatever effect kindness and affection may have had on the human-cat relationship, the way it started is that humans, by storing food in primitive shelters, made their habitations into breeding places for rodents, which raided their grain stores. The wealth of rodents made people’s farms into feeding places for small felids.

The relationship between cats and people started out as strictly business and even today most farmers are not inclined to feed the cats. That would be bad for business! That contemporary cats are lovable may of course have developed as the article avers – but as a byproduct.
Dave Schmalz
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

There is more danger now

Since this year marks the 100th anniversary of the horrors of the first world war, aversion to war should be high. Yet there’s little questioning of the sanity of continually erupting wars perpetrated by western powers on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. These wars, costing trillions of dollars, divide and damage countries, causing misery, chaos and cycles of continual violence.

The new Ukraine conflict, with the US and EU baiting Russia, terrifyingly risks annihilating all life on earth through the potential use of nuclear weapons, which can also be released accidentally, especially under conflict pressures. Your story, A cold war for the 21st century (28 November), claims the worst excesses of the original cold war are largely absent. But a huge increase in US military bases worldwide has stimulated a nuclear weapons arms race and the modernisation of nuclear weapons; they can be released now in a few minutes, rather than the longer time it used to take. There’s more danger now with less time for correcting errors of judgment.
Kay Weir
Wellington, New Zealand

Groupthink is the problem

Owen Jones (28 November) seems not to have noticed the basic fact about humanity: we live in social groups. It is within these groups that “selflessness and cooperation make evolutionary sense” but in conflicts between groups (ie wars) that we are “capable of sickening cruelty against other human beings”.

These groups are defined by the information they share. Originally they were extended families and all the information was in their DNA, but every advance in communication from language itself (some 50,000 years ago) to writing (5,000) to printing (500) and television (50) allowed them to get bigger by facilitating that sharing. The bigger the group, the more unequal its members became, and attempts to remedy it by violence ended badly. Hence, the gradual social democratic approach favoured by us Guardian readers.
Graham Andrews
Spokane, Washington, US

Briefly

• Eric Schlosser (5 December), rightly fearing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons in war or via accidents at a base, says that Iran, for these reasons, must never get the bomb. His concern for the Iranian people doesn’t seem to extend to Israel, where an accident would not only endanger the Israelis, but also those in lands it has annexed, built on, and occupied.
Ivor Tittawella
Umeå, Sweden

• Mike Selvey is right that the bowler will be as devastated as anybody over Phillip Hughes’s death (5 December). But why was he bowling at the batsman’s head? The principle of cricket is to bowl towards the stumps for the chance of a wicket for the bowler or of a score for the batter. Too wide of the stumps is disallowed, so why not too high equally?
Adrian Betham
London, UK

• Dirty supermarket chicken (5 December) is one episode in a decade-long row of abominable scandals in the meat industry. Judging by consumer watchdogs’ publications, spoiled meat has been the new standard for a long time. Supermarket bosses should be ashamed, indeed. It is time, however, to also raise the following question: why is it that countless well-informed consumers are still so eager to buy what is evidentially of very poor quality when literally everybody has what it takes to live on better foodstuffs?
Karim Akerma
Hamburg, Germany

Please send letters to
weekly.letters@theguardian.com

Independent:

The siege of a café in Sydney should not be viewed as anything other than simply a criminal incident committed by a lunatic with a history  of sexual violence, assaults and murders.

On the same day, an Iraq war veteran killed his ex-wife with six members of her family in the US. Contrary to the incident in Sydney, where media outlets rushed to attribute it to an Islamist extremist; no religious meaning was attached to the shooting rampage in the US.

We should abstain from attaching any religious  flavour to these criminal acts. Islam and Christianity are the same as they ever were: peaceful religions which forbid wanton aggression and terrorism. And as Christmas, “the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ”, is fast approaching, there is every need to refrain from empty slogans, political grandstanding and petty rivalries, and to resurrect the gospel message of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation, humility, tranquillity, co-operation and peace.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2

 

As an Australian and a former Sydney resident, I am deeply saddened by the events at Martin Place. Yet somehow, it is not terrorism I fear the most. It is how the Australian government  may react.

Will another Australian be dumped in Guantanamo Bay, subjected to torture and tried by a kangaroo court? Will security forces be given even more draconian powers than the ones they already have but didn’t use?

Samantha Chung

Cambridge

 

I can’t help thinking that if the siege in Sydney had occurred in America or Israel the gunman would have been swiftly shot by a marksman as soon as he became visible through the café window, which he clearly did on a number of occasions, as could be seen in the live editions of various television news programmes.

That would have brought about a much earlier conclusion.

Robert Tuck

Wimborne Minster, Dorset

 

Torture report shames us all

The US Senate’s CIA report is welcomed. It is a start. It may do some good and, it being a formally published document, the law ought to take its course.

However, having no special information, I feel I have known all along that the denials and half-truths of British and US officials and politicians have been lies. We are not stupid, and if I knew, then, probably, most of us have known.

The blind eyes that millions have turned appear to be the same blind eyes that much of the population of German and German-occupied collaborationist Europe turned towards the Holocaust. Uncertain and impotent we may be, but it shames us all even so.

That shame is intensified by the effrontery of the liars. And they ask us to vote for them?

Roger Bloomfield

London NW6

 

Sober as a Lord

I write regarding the piece by Donald MacInnes about catering in the House of Lords (13 December).

At no time has the House of Lords voted against a shared catering service. No such proposal has been made by the House of Commons. Furthermore, we work closely with colleagues in the Commons to procure catering supplies cost-effectively. It is preposterous to suggest that the House has a “champagne fund”; we sell champagne at a profit in the Lords and most of it is sold in our gift shop (30 per cent) or at revenue-generating banqueting events (57 per cent). Such activities have helped us to reduce the cost of the catering service by 27 per cent since 2007-08.

Mr MacInnes said that this matter left him “spluttering” in anger. Your paper’s failure to reflect my statement pointing out that Sir Malcolm Jack’s evidence was inaccurate has left me similarly incandescent with rage. Neither the House itself nor its authorities would reject so lightly any proposals for closer working with the House of Commons, particularly were it to be in the taxpayer’s interest.

Lord Sewel

Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

Pupils and teachers both let down

The Ofsted annual report made it clear that it is not just the country’s most able pupils who are being let down by schools but also those with a special educational need (SEN) (“Bright pupils are cheated by ‘lack of scholarship’ in schools”, 11 December).

The report stated that pupils with SEN, including autism, are being failed by lack of appropriate support from teaching staff. It also stated that not enough attention is paid to the development of personal and social skills, despite the fact that this can make a “substantial difference” for pupils with SEN.

This comes as no surprise to us, given recent research which found that 60 per cent of teachers did not feel adequately trained to support children with autism. Such a huge skills gap, and the impact it has on pupils with autism, should be clear to all.

With more than  1.4 million pupils in English schools having a special educational need, school leaders must ensure staff are trained to support them. Local authorities also have a role to play in ensuring that all schools under their control have access to an autism specialist teacher.

Jolanta Lasota

Chief Executive, Ambitious about Autism

London N10

 

We are often faced with headlines which say, in effect, “Pupils let down by teachers”.

During my long career in education I met many pupils who could not, and some who simply would not, apply themselves to the hard work which is necessary for those who want to learn.

It seems that nowadays disruptive pupils can refuse with impunity, and at the same time disrupt those who are willing to put in the effort. With modern technology there are many more ways in which this can be done, mobile phones and computer games being but two examples.

The whole concentration seems to be on the pupils, and the teachers get the blame. Anyone can lead a horse to water, but no one can make it drink. Education has to be a two-way process. Perhaps it is time for the headline to be revised and read, “Teachers let down by pupils”.

Bill Fletcher

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

 

It was disappointing to read your recent article on the Ofsted’s inspections of free schools (“Ofsted tells a third of free schools to improve”, 3 December); not least because it failed to reflect the fact that free schools are significantly more likely to be judged as outstanding than all other state schools.

Nearly a quarter of free schools have been recognised as outstanding, compared with 19 per cent of all other schools, no small feat given the these schools did not even exist three years ago.

Natalie Evans

Director, The New Schools Network, London SE1

 

Maths is more  than numbers

I must disagree with Guy Keleny when he recommends that the term “maths literate” be replaced by “numerate” (Errors and Omissions, 13 December).

The word “numerate” is not appropriate to the problem. Numeracy refers to ability with numbers – in other words, arithmetic. Arithmetic is just one part of mathematics – even school mathematics introduces people to algebra, geometry, calculus, all topics that require the development of logical thought processes.

The problem nowadays is that our politicians and others are quite capable of adding up numbers, but the choice of which numbers and the conclusions about the effects of their sums seem to be beyond them. They just don’t think things through logically.

I agree that “maths literate” is not sensible – but the country’s  need is much wider  than “numeracy”.

Professor Anthony North

Leeds

 

New invasion of Scotland

Marilyn Mason (letter, 15 December) asks if the rest of us will have to make up the difference between low taxes and high welfare payments in Scotland. The answer is no: we will use our right of free movement to cross the border and take advantage of this regime, provided, that is, we are still in the EU.

David Wallis

Cirencester

 

Platform for a nasty party

Your editorial “The nasty party” (16 December) rightly shows The Independent’s feelings about Nigel Farage and Ukip. So why give him the “oxygen of publicity” by allowing him to have a weekly column?

John Blenkinsopp

Sheffield

 

Marriage of inconvenience

Lynton Crosby thinks that legalising humanist marriage would distract from the Tories’ main message at the election. Too right. Celebrating and valuing humanity sits uneasily with the inhumanity of creating deep social divisions through the misallocation of resources and opportunity. The country would be stunned.

Paula Jones

London SW2

Times:

Melanie Phillips says that, to save innocent life, you may have to dole out rough treatment on occasion

Sir, The arguments put forward by Melanie Phillips (Opinion, Dec 15) in her defence of the use of torture by the CIA during the interrogation of terrorists are flawed. The moral and legal permissibility of the use of torture does not depend on the particular circumstances of the case in question (the “supreme emergency” or “ticking bomb” justification referred to by her has long been discredited on logical and empirical grounds). Nor does it depend on the motivation of the agent doing the torturing. Honourable motives do not turn a fundamentally wrong action into a “right” wrong. Article 2.3 of the UN Convention against Torture specifically states that “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture”.

“Torture” also does not admit of degrees, and cannot be redefined to suit the purposes of those wishing to justify it: recall the cynical attempts of US government lawyers in the Bush era to reclassify so-called lesser degrees of mistreatment as “torture lite” and to redefine this as “enhanced interrogation” simply to suit their highly selective use of special pleading argument in order to justify what was, in effect, state-sanctioned torture.

The prohibition against torture is an absolute, not a qualified, one: the right not to be tortured does not admit of any exceptions. If civilised communities attempt to derogate from this basic right, no matter what the purported justification, then they become, to use Ms Philips’s own words “morally no different” from those who torture.

Don Carrick
Project director, Military Ethics Education Network, Universities of Hull and Leeds

Sir, We are hearing a great deal these days about our government’s attitude to torture. It may be worth recalling that when the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi died in 2011, documents found in Tripoli the following day revealed that until a late stage of the Libyan uprising against him, MI6 and the CIA had been involved in the “rendition” of Libyan dissidents from as far afield as Singapore to face torture and worse by the authorities in Tripoli in exchange for “intelligence”.

Ivor Lucas
(British Embassy, Tripoli, 1962-66)
London SW19

Sir, Melanie Phillips asks “Can waterboarding be torture when it is used to train US forces?” The journalist Christopher Hitchens voluntarily experienced it first-hand, in North Carolina. He survived the experience but concluded: “If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”

Dr John Doherty
Vienna, Austria

Sir, The end does not justify the means, and it is never right to commit an evil in the hope of eradicating another evil. From a practical point of view, the use of torture could lead the one being tortured giving false information to shorten the period of suffering.

John Scotson
Altrincham, Gtr Manchester

Sir, The softly, softly method of interrogation worked better than torture when I was a serving soldier many years ago. Pain makes one confess to anything to escape the unpleasantness. A sort of bad cop, good cop routine without the agony softens up a recipient who’ll respond better to food and drink from those wanting information rather than the quasi-sadists who enjoy their power.

Robert Vincent
Wildhern, Hants

Sir, “Redacted”? I understand that our language is evolving all the time but suddenly this word is appearing everywhere. What is wrong with censored, deleted, erased or cut out?

David Housden
Elton, Cambs

If the BBC gives away the rights to its Wimbledon coverage, just what are we paying our licence fee for?

Sir, Having lost cricket and much of rugby, the BBC is now negotiating away coverage of Wimbledon (report, Dec 16). This, coupled with the plethora of repeats on BBC 1 and 2, including the interminable railway peregrinations by Michael Portillo, begs the question: what is the BBC doing with our licence fee? Plenty of the BBC’s big-wigs are pocketing £100,000-plus salaries, but where does the public feature in the priorities of this increasingly self-serving body?

Richard English

South Petherton, Somerset

The proposed two-tier contract will impinge access to justice and undermine the principle of equality before the law

Sir, Dominic Grieve’s comments are yet another blow to the Lord Chancellor in a month in which they have already rained thick and fast on his wrong-headed reforms to the justice system (“Politicians put stability at risk in race for popularity, Grieve warns”, Dec 16). The ban on prisoners’ books overturned, his guidance for granting legal aid in immigration cases ruled unlawful, parliament misled over his judicial review reforms and, crushingly, a High Court judge labelling his policies “strange”.

However, our legal system still stands at a tipping point. His proposed two-tier contract will impinge access to justice and fundamentally undermine the principle of equality before the law. This is why, in conjunction with the London Criminal Courts Association, we are launching a judicial review into the unlawful nature of his reforms which we hope will be the straw that will finally break this particular camel’s back.

Bill Waddington

Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association

Is one reason behind good health in today’s elderly people simply that their peers were killed off during the war by TB?

Sir, One reason for better health in older people today (report, Dec 15) may be that their less fit peers were killed off by diseases such as tuberculosis which increased substantially during the war. The danger is that as the disease-resistant generation dies off and drug resistance increases, we may repeat the cycle all over again.

Professor Peter D.O. Davies

Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital

Lady Herries of Terregles and her siblings were known as ‘The Norfolk Broads’ on the 1962 MCC tour of Australia

Sir, Your obituary of Lady Herries of Terregles (Dec 15) mentions the fact that her father, the Duke of Norfolk, managed the 1962-63 MCC tour to Australia, but not that the cricketers irreverently referred to her and her three sisters as “The Norfolk Broads”.

Harold Goldblatt

London NW11

Telegraph:

Ukip and the EU; air traffic control chaos; displaying the season’s e-greetings; and festive shopping soundtracks

A supporter is seen wearing a United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) badge before meeting the leader of the party Nigel Farage, at a campaign event in South Ockendon, Essex

A supporter is seen wearing a United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) badge  Photo: Reuters

SIR – It is a pity that Professor Alan Sked chose to denigrate Nigel Farage and his party, rather than offer practical alternatives as to how the people of Britain can voice their many concerns over membership of the European Union.

Boycotting the European Parliament as a demonstration of opposition (the Ukip policy laid down in Professor Sked’s day), is surely too silent an option. Mr Farage chose to highlight what he perceived as a fundamentally flawed institution by getting as close to its working as possible. Importantly, it is a strategy his constituents have consistently agreed with.

The EU, with its single currency that has brought mass unemployment and debt on a truly massive scale, is a very different beast from the one Professor Sked knew when leader of Ukip. If the power of the unelected elite in Brussels is to be challenged, there seems little point in the grinding of axes.

David Taylor
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – We are told that a vote for Ukip at the next general election will mean that

Ed Miliband will be in No 10. Why, then, has the Labour Party felt it necessary to issue its MPs with a strategy document entitled Campaigning against Ukip?

Gordon Galletly
Sevenoaks, Kent

SIR – Nigel Farage seems to think that Enoch Powell was forecasting bloodshed between whites and West Indians. This was not so.

Powell was far more worried about Asian immigration, both because the potential number of Asians wishing to migrate to Britain was hundreds, perhaps thousands of times greater, and also because he felt that many Asians were culturally unassimilable.

He did not specify Islam as a factor – I talked to him about it – but I think that was what he meant.

It is important to say that colour and race did not matter to him. What he wanted was a British nation that did not include unassimilated minorities. He would, precisely, have abhorred multi-culturalism.

R W Johnson
Cape Town, South Africa

SIR – Enoch Powell was not a racist. I was present at a reception in the London School of Economics attended by academics, politicians and journalists being given a glass of wine as we entered by an Afro-Caribbean waitress. Enoch Powell did not just take a glass and pass on; he – and only he – stopped to talk to her as a person.

J R Lucas
East Lambrook, Somerset

SIR – Side effects: this painkiller may cause blurting out of racist and anti-gay remarks. Avoid driving, operating heavy machinery and contesting a target seat in next year’s general election.

Keith Gilmour
Glasgow

Virtuous circles

SIR – The European Commission will vote today on its work programme for 2015, which may remove support for the Circular Economy package. This concerns resources and recycling. It offers huge potential for job creation, resource security, environmental protection and economic growth in Britain and the rest of Europe and abandoning it would be short-sighted.

There is a great deal of support for the package from many sectors, and the World Economic Forum has suggested that developing the circular economy would save $1 trillion a year.

We call on British ministers to send a clear message to Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the Commission, that the programme must be retained to protect the continent’s environment, economy and competitiveness in the long term.

Gillian Drakeford
Country Manager, Ikea Group

Richard Gillies
Group Sustainability Director, Kingfisher Plc

Sheila Redzepi
VP Global Advocacy, Unilever

Mike Barry
Director of Sustainable Business, Marks and Spencer

Gareth Stace
Head of Climate and Environment Policy, EEF, The Manufacturers’ Organisation

Andy Atkins
Executive Director, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Jacob Hayler
Economist, Environmental Services Association

Steve Lee
Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institute of Waste Management

Dan Cooke
Director of External Affairs, Viridor

Matthew Spencer
Director, Green Alliance

Ray Georgeson
Chief Executive, Resource Association

Charlotte Morton
Chief Executive, Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association

Dr John Williams
Sinvestec LLC

Nick Molho
Executive Director, Aldersgate Group

Matthew Farrow
Executive Director, The Environmental Industries Commission (EIC)

Jeremy Jacobs
Renewable Energy Association

Forbes McDougall
Head of Circular Economy, Veolia UK

Derailed commuters

SIR – From January 11 trains for London Charing Cross will no longer stop at London Bridge. This is where one could change trains for Cannon Street. Commuters on the train from Hastings are to be left with only one train before 7.30am into Cannon Street.

How am I and many other commuters, who have paid thousands of pounds for the privilege of travelling with Southeastern Trains, supposed to get to work on time?

Oh – and on January 2, the cost of my ticket will rise again, making it almost

30 per cent more expensive than in 2010.

Ian Rennardson
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Air traffic chaos

Air traffic control at Gatwick Airport

SIR – While the breakdown of air traffic control is of great concern once again it is the lack of detailed information given to the thousands of people whose travel plans were disrupted that was most inexcusable. This seems to be a common problem at both airports and railway stations.

The duty manager at the airport concerned should broadcast a message introducing himself or herself personally, apologising for the inconvenience caused, and explaining the exact reason for the delay and the possible knock-on effects. They should then provide regular updates as more information becomes available.

The public will be more accepting of delays if they are given detailed information by someone in authority.

Stephen Reichwald
London NW8

SIR – With our increasing dependence on ever more complex computer systems, it is inevitable that glitches will occur from time to time. The real question that Nats – and Heathrow – need to answer is why an outage of just 36 minutes led to chaos lasting for more than 24 hours.

All organisations, in both the private and public sectors, which serve the general public should be obliged to pass stress tests in which they demonstrate the resilience of their service to a single point of failure.

Michael Grayeff
Harrow, Middlesex

SIR – Why is this country buying bespoke real-time software from a Spanish company?

Is it a consequence of the abysmal record of the Government’s computer system projects over many decades? If so, it is to be bitterly regretted, as Britain boasts some of the most talented software developers in the world.

Peter Humphrey
Tideswell, Derbyshire

Motorway barriers

SIR – The dramatic photograph of the recent tragic accident on the M25 was particularly frightening as it showed the new reinforced concrete reservation barrier smashed and breached.

These barriers form part of the Government’s “smart” upgrades for motorways and many miles of this type of barrier have been built, with more under construction. One would have thought this type of accident should not happen where concrete barriers have been constructed.

David Hartridge
Groby, Leicestershire

Discouraging nurses

SIR – Has it occurred to the UK nursing authorities that the current university-based training system may be a significant disincentive for those interested in a nursing career?

It certainly was for our daughter, an ideal candidate, who was discouraged by a further three years in academic study after successful completion of her A-levels.

John Kellie
Pyrford, Surrey

Music while you queue

SIR – Has NatWest lost its senses? When I found piped music playing in my local branch recently, I was told it was likely to become the norm.

To where can I move my account of many years, for peace and quiet?

Robin Stainer
London EC2

Fishy timing

SIR – I once worked for an NHS trust that had a strict policy on staff surrendering to the personnel department any gifts offered by patients.

I was given a nice pair of freshly caught trout by the father of a patient. Contacting personnel I asked them if I should put the trout into the internal or external mail to comply with trust policy. They phoned me back two days later to say I could keep the trout, which by then had already provided me with a very nice fish supper.

David Booth
Dunfermline, Fife

Just popping outside to warm up a little bit

‘Lighting the Stove’, an oil painting by Pierre Édouard Frère, 1886 . Photo: http://www.bridgemanart.com

SIR – We live in an old farmhouse in a frost pocket where it is colder inside than out.

Setting the daytime room temperature at 22C is merely a target that is never reached. A woodburner, recently fitted in one room with three walls to the outside, is having to be upgraded to cope, contrary to the manufacturer’s assurances.

In summer, when the weather is occasionally too hot for us, we come inside to cool off.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

How can the season’s e-greetings be displayed?

SIR – This year I have already received more electronic Christmas cards than I have on all previous Christmases combined. A few have been preceded, or accompanied, by messages explaining that postal charges and card costs are becoming exorbitant and the sender will therefore be making a donation to charity instead of buying and posting a card.

My difficulty with this is in finding a method of displaying these “cards”. It also becomes more difficult to keep a reliable list of card-senders.

Jeremy C N Price
Cromarty

SIR – For the past four weeks I have been trying to buy fresh rabbits in preparation for making my Christmas Eve game pie, but none of our local butchers is having any delivered.

Where have all the rabbits gone?

Ann Hellewell
Camberley, Surrey

SIR – My husband and I have found a solution to the problem of tangled Christmas lights and their effect on marital harmony.

On Twelfth Night this year we left our Christmas tree as it was – lights and all – and put it in the spare room until December 1. Incidentally, we have been married for 46 years and this is the first time we have resorted to this.

Maureen Iles
Eldene, Wiltshire

SIR – The odd gem does appear in Christmas circular letters. Here’s one I found particularly odd, from an American whom I met just once on holiday some years ago and who has sent a card ever since. It said: “We lost our sister in law Betty this fall and Lisa lost her bulldog Fred this past summer. Both Betty and Fred are fondly remembered and missed.” They didn’t say who was missed more.

David Leigh
Ludlow, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Prof Frank Murray (December 15th) provides us with a convincing and compelling argument for the creation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol. He emphasises the consequences of drinking to excess and points out the number of lives that could be saved should minimum unit pricing be introduced.

Here in Britain similar concerns have been aired by authoritative bodies such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the British Medical Association, which are calling for not only minimum unit pricing but also a ban on alcohol advertising and increasing to 21 the age at which one can purchase the stuff. Regrettably the British government, possibly hiding behind European directives, is vacillating and perhaps reluctant to take on the drinks industry, a powerful lobby which spends some £800 million a year promoting its products.

I cannot add to the eloquence or authority of Prof Murray, but his views resonate with many of us this side of the Irish Sea. The collateral damage brought about through excessive drinking in incontrovertible. It is evident in domestic violence, assaults, anti-social behaviour and of, course, untold damage to our health. – Yours, etc,

FRANK GREANEY,

Formby, Liverpool.

Sir, – The opinion piece by Derek Byrne (“Clear policy needed to tackle alcohol fallout”, December 14th) regarding Ireland’s alarming alcohol abuse problems highlights again the lack of coherent Government policy in this area.

On October 7th, you published a report by your correspondent Mark Hennessy on a recent Scottish study on alcohol abuse which showed that there were 13,000 deaths in Scotland between 2002 and 2011 directly caused by drinking habits (“Areas with many pubs have triple the alcohol deaths, says Scottish study”) .

What was particularly shocking about that report was the statistical correlation between the number of drinking licences issued in an area and the significantly increased number of alcohol-related deaths within the associated catchment areas. The study demonstrated that whereas hospital admission rates for alcohol-related illness were constant in neighbourhoods with fewer than six off-licences and nine pubs within a 10-minute walk, the admission statistics more than tripled when there was an increase in the number of outlets selling alcohol.

In particular the study highlighted that off-licences were a leading contributor to alcohol abuse and illness, as also is the practice of shopping outlets using alcohol as a loss-leader in competition among stores.

It will come as no surprise that the highest number of deaths were in the poorest communities.

I haven’t seen a similar study published in Ireland, but given the very close cultural connections between Scotland and Ireland, it would be highly likely that similar patterns and statistics apply here.

Local planning authorities should take note and government should take the lead in ensuring more coherent health-related strategies to combat our epidemic of alcohol abuse. – Yours, etc,

Dr VINCENT KENNY,

Knocklyon,

Dublin 16.

Sir, – The suggestion by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) that the State should assist asylum seekers in meeting the cost of travelling abroad for abortions is nothing short of surreal (“Migrant women unable to travel for abortions”, Front Page, December 15th).

At a time when the exchequer is struggling to maintain existing hospital services for the general public, why should taxpayers foot the bill for anyone to get elective medical procedures which are illegal here in Ireland? What kind of a precedent would this set in respect of other medical procedures or treatments banned here?

The recent subtle emphasis on this issue of cost shows how the goalposts on abortion are slowly being shifted by the IFPA and other pro-choice groups. First, they pushed strongly for legislation for the X case and abortion in the case of suicidal ideation, a cause which was taken up with vigour and enthusiasm by the Government. The ink was hardly dry on the so-called Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act when there was a concerted attempt to use the death of Savita Halappanavar to discredit Ireland’s maternity services, which remain among the best in the world. And the recent Miss Y case is now being used as the catalyst for the suggestion that abortion on demand ought to be introduced in Ireland because of the high cost of travelling to England.

The fact remains that any woman in Ireland, including asylum seekers, whose life is in danger due to their pregnancy is entitled to all treatment which is necessary to save their lives. What they are not legally entitled to do is to seek abortions for social or economic reasons or as a matter of lifestyle choice. So why should taxpayers pay for them to do so abroad? – Yours, etc,

BARRY WALSH,

Clontarf,

Dublin 3.

Sir, – The RTÉ programme on the Áras Attracta care home in Swinford, Co Mayo, last week shone a depressing light on the standards of residential care for persons with intellectual disabilities in this HSE-run facility. The scenes have caused shock and distress to people all across the country. Inclusion Ireland has identified specific legislative or ministerial actions which could be taken now in five areas: advocacy, individualised funding (personal budgets), investment in promised disability reform, assisted decision-making legislation and hate crime legislation.

The Citizens Information Act 2007, a core component of the National Disability Strategy (NDS) (2004), provides for the establishment of a Personal Advocacy Service with statutory powers. The Personal Advocacy Service and Community Visitors Programme have yet to be introduced. The decision not to introduce the Personal Advocacy Service was made in 2008.

The National Advocacy Service has huge waiting lists and is struggling to meet demand and it has been reported that these advocates are being met with resistance and a lack of co-operation from public bodies, including the HSE.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton should, under section 5 of the Citizens Information Act 2007, establish the Personal Advocacy Service.

The HSE and Minister of State for Social Care Kathleen Lynch should introduce the Community Visitors Programme in 2015, in partnership with Inclusion Ireland and other stakeholders.

The Department of Health convened an expert group to review disability services that stated in 2012 that the current model of disability service provision does not meet stated policy objectives and that “those using disability services do not participate in society in any meaningful way . . . have little opportunity to self-determine or to live full and independent lives”.

Five large disability service organisations control 50 per cent of the total disability spend of circa €1.4 billion. They serve nowhere near 50 per cent of persons with disability who require support. In the absence of Government commitment to individualised or personalised supports being fulfilled, no real reform will happen soon.

In line with Programme for Government commitments, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar should instruct the HSE to ensure that service-level agreements are signed with disability providers for 2015 to allocate 5 per cent to 8 per cent of the block grant to individualised, person-centred, community-based models of support.

A programme of investment by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin to ensure the implementation of the congregated settings report is urgently required if these abuses are to be avoided in the future.

Legislation currently before the Oireachtas – the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 – will put in place the legal recognition of people with disabilities and a realisation of their right to enjoy legal capacity alongside others.

Crucial to this realisation is the supports that are needed to make decisions and exercise legal capacity, and it is critical that the legislation recognises the individual support each person with an intellectual disability requires to make and communicate decisions.

Persons committing hate crimes against persons with disabilities should be punished through the criminal justice system. There are two ways of doing this – by introducing aggravated forms of existing offences and through sentence enhancement. Both of these should be immediately considered by the Government.

In addition, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald must repeal the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871, which labels people with intellectual disability as “idiots” in law and does not protect the decisions or choices of people with intellectual disabilities.

She should also publish the revised Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 and ensure its enactment at the earliest possible moment. – Yours, etc,

CORMAC CAHILL,

Inclusion Ireland,

Unit C 2,

The Steelworks,

Foley Street, Dublin 1.

Sir, – It cost €510 million more than budgeted to run the health service this year (13 times what the department budgeted to extend medical cards to children under six).

A large Dublin hospital is advising patients to stay away. Another is only able to see its diabetics for their annual check-up every 18 months.

Waiting lists locally for orthopaedics are in excess of two years.

Some of my patients have experienced puberty and come out the other side while on the ear, nose and throat (ENT) waiting list for outpatients.

Consultant posts lie empty and many rural areas are set to lose their family doctors for good. The HSE has stated it is not going to readvertise the GMS list in Feakle, Co Clare, which received no applications, so in other words there will probably never be another GP in Feakle.

Yet the Department of Health and the HSE are planning to extend free GP care to children under six, to primary schoolchildren, the over-70s, secondary schoolchildren and then to the rest of the public.

We are told we aspire to having a world-class health service based on the medical needs of patients rather than the ability to pay.

Like world peace, this is hard to argue with, and I hope the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar can succeed, but I worry about the fact that we don’t have enough doctors and that we cannot afford these reforms.

The existing system is already struggling and common sense would seem to suggest that it would be prudent to fix the health service we have before we continue to expand it.

I would like a world-class health system, but would settle for one that is safe and sustainable. – Yours, etc,

Dr SÉAMUS McMENAMIN,

An Uaimh,

Co na Mhí.

A chara, – Kathy Sheridan nails it as usual with another thoughtful and well-researched article (“Blueprint for a smarter society”, December 13th). Citizens who protest the “broken” political system would be well served to direct their energy into realising that the system isn’t “broken,” it’s just functioning the way it will inevitably function in its current form. And the glory of a democracy is that you can vote for alternatives, or mobilise to create the alternatives where none exist. I personally don’t think the majority of citizens are willing to vote for the type of changes that would do away with localism or cronyism, and none of the existing parties is advocating wholesale constitutional reform. So we have to educate ourselves to know the alternatives, decide among them, and agitate for them to be enacted, if we’re serious about meaningful change. – Is mise,

AMHLAOIBH

MacGIOLLA,

Oileán Chliara,

Co Mhaigh Eo.

Sir, – Joanna Tuffy TD highlights (December 13th) what she sees as a contradiction in the ESRI’s analysis of the distributional effects of the budget.

Perhaps Ms Tuffy should read the Labour Party manifesto on which she stood for election, particularly the reference to the water tax, and examine the role of the Government which she supports.

Ms Tuffy concludes with a reference to economists and light bulbs; in her case, pots and kettles come to mind. – Yours, etc,

EOIN DILLON,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – The ESRI’s pronouncements remind me of Ronnie Corbett telling one of his shaggy dog stories – a vague and rambling yarn with so many contradictions and caveats as to be close to unintelligible. At least Mr Corbett has the excuse of being vaguely amusing. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA O’RIORDAN,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Here’s a simple mathematical tip for journalists to avoid arguments with street protesters about crowd numbers – each square metre of standing space can safely accommodate three people, depending on body size and fixed obstacles (parked cars, street furniture, etc). It’s possible, therefore, to fit 9,000 people into 3,000 sq m. As an example, Croke Park has standing space – about 3,500 sq m – for 8,800 spectators.

The area of the streets (including footpaths) on either side of Merrion Square can be accurately calculated – the length of the north/south side of the square is twice that of the east/west side, the latter being about 180m. The four sides together at, say, 20m wide (allowing for obstacles) produce standing space of about 21,600 sq m. Multiplying this parameter by three equals 64,800 people. Substituting the east side of the square for Mount Street, and Merrion Street, Lower Clare Street and Nassau Street, it’s very probable that more than 70,000 people could have attended last Wednesday’s water charges protest.

That’s engineering for you! – Yours, etc,

JOHN GREANEY,

Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to David Walsh’s letter (December 16th), I fail to see how the existence of a few gender studies centres is an example of “notorious gender bias” when the real figures that show the lack of representation and the biased promotion methods that abound in Irish universities and the rest of Irish society are somehow not notorious at all.

It is interesting how the elephant in the room can be ignored when it affects women, rather than men. – Yours, etc,

Dr CHRYSSA DISLIS,

Cork.

A chara, – On December 13th The Irish Times ran a reprint of a New York Times article (“Good dogs go to heaven, Pope suggests”) in which it was reported that Pope Francis had made some remarks concerning man’s best friend and the afterlife to comfort a young boy who was grieving his lost pet. All very touching, except he said and did nothing of the sort – indeed, the New York Times ran a correction to their original piece making that clear. And the date they published that clarification? December 12th. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – You report that the Association of Catholic Priests has written to Pope Francis to ask him to reverse the silencing of Fr Tony Flannery (“Priests’ association asks Pope to reverse decision on Fr Flannery”, December 15th). The use of the word “silencing” in this case is odd. Has Fr Flannery ever been more vocal at any time in his life than he has been since he was disciplined? – Yours, etc,

CDC ARMSTRONG,

Belfast.

Sir, – To mark Thierry Henry’s retirement from soccer, perhaps we should change the name of Henry Street to Handball Alley. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN O’DONOGHUE,

Killerig, Carlow.

Sir, – It is so refreshing to read Michael Harding’s column every Tuesday. His words and style of writing transports one to a place which is free from the daily worries of modern life. Romantic Ireland’s alive and well. – Yours, etc,

HITESH TEWARI,

Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:

Some of the nurses at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin

Some of the nurses at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin

To all the staff and management at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin:

All too often we hear bad press relating to the Irish health service, and it is only right that if a service as critical to the well-being of the country, such as health, is under- performing it should be criticised and improved.

But if we are to be open and honest in our criticism when the health service is under-performing, we should also be forthright in our praise when it does an excellent job. It is for this reason I am writing to you today.

On Friday, December 5, our 8-week-old boy, Frank, had been sick with the symptoms of a cold for a couple of days.

By Friday night he seemed to be deteriorating and was brought to Crumlin A&E. It turns out he had the RSV virus, his lung was partially collapsed and he was in a very critical condition. He spent about three hours being intensively treated in A&E and was then moved to ICU for 24 hours. After this he spent eight nights on St Peter’s ward.

On Saturday, December 6, his twin brother, Bobby, started to show signs of the virus and we brought him to A&E. He was also admitted with RSV and has spent 10 nights on St Peter’s ward. We are expecting him to be discharged this morning.

During our time at Crumlin, the care our family received was amazing. Not just the care given to the boys but also the kindness and tenderness shown to us as parents. I do not have one complaint about the service we received there. Please pass on our thanks to all at the hospital, particularly the staff on the floor in A&E, PICU1, St Peter’s ward and Dr Kileen’s team. Thanks to you all, our whole family will be safe and sound at home this Christmas.

Please keep up the excellent and very important job you are doing. We will always remember how well we were treated during our time with you.

All our love and happy Christmas.

The Carr Family: Frank, Bobby, Amy, Marty and Harry

Now not even air is free

I called into my local garage in Kilkenny the other day to pump up a soft tyre on the front of my car, only to be confronted by a machine demanding a – non refundable – one euro coin for five minutes of air.

I confronted the shop assistant, who confirmed that, yes, this garage is now charging customers for air. Disgusted at this new development and with the words of George Lee ringing in my ears, I refused to pay. I’m reluctantly paying for water, I said, but I absolutely refuse to pay for air, and stormed out.

Hobbling home I questioned George’s logic. “Price increases can lead to inflation,” he said – but in my case not paying contributed to deflation. I was confused but satisfied myself by deciding that you really needed to be a very clever economist to work all this stuff out.

Eugene McGuinness

Co Kilkenny

We need statemanship on NI

I do not wish to be critical of British Prime Minister David Cameron, but he carries in his hands the future for peace in these islands along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Is it too much to hope that the one will be inspired by the example of Gladstone and the other by that of Parnell?

We do not elect a prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to solve the problems of, say, Libya and Ukraine, but we do elect him or her to solve the problems of Northern Ireland.

Events in Belfast and Dublin ought not to be the sideshow for a British prime minister that they were in 1914 for Asquith or at the time of Sunningdale in 1973 for Heath. Nothing is more important to the peoples of these islands, English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh alike, than a permanent and just settlement in Ireland. A peace process will no longer suffice. It is peace that is required.

All the main players are now assembled in Belfast. They must realise that they have an unparalleled opportunity to find a lasting solution for us all. We have waited for a hundred years for the British parliament at Westminster to build upon the Home Rule Act of 1914. Surely we have waited long enough.

The British are in no position to tell the rest of the world how to conduct its affairs (as they frequently do with a simply unbelievable arrogance born of past imperial rule) unless they can govern themselves. Christmas 2014 is the time for one Old Etonian (Cameron) to assume the mantle of another (Gladstone).

More is needed here than gifts of money, which the bankrupt British dole out with extraordinary largesse throughout the world. We need statesmanship and a compelling vision for the future.

Dr Gerald Morgan

Chaucery Hub

Trinity College Dublin

Why not slam Egypt on Gaza too?

In recent weeks, 60 tunnels and 800 homes have been destroyed in Gaza. A 500-metre-deep security zone is being created along the border and no structures whatsoever will be allowed in this zone. In addition to this, military courts have been authorised to try civilians who block roads or damage state facilities. These moves are as a result of attacks which caused the deaths of 33 security men.

The reason I write this letter is because the silence in this country and around the world is quite deafening. There is no hijacking of the Dail, there are no flotillas, no academics or trade unions screaming for boycotts, no false accusations of apartheid, no political hissy fits from either House and no bullying of people in supermarkets who wish to buy products of their choice.

The answer, of course, is obvious. Israel cannot be blamed. Egypt was forced to take this action to defend itself against Hamas terrorists. It just goes to show how anti-Semitic and racist this country really is.

Captain Donal Buckley

Castlebar, Co Mayo

Israel is nothing like ISIS

It is morally repugnant of Dr Al Qutob (Letters, Irish Independent, December 15) to even insinuate any comparison between ISIS and Israel.

ISIS is a barbaric organisation that has murdered countless thousands of fellow Muslims, Christians and Yazidis, usually in the most fiendish manner possible, including decapitation. It has tortured, raped and sold into slavery thousands of men, women and children. Its ideology calls for the conquest and annihilation of everyone who does not match its demented standards of Sunni Islam fidelity. Israel, by contrast, is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

Dr Qutob says that the issue of the Palestinians is ignored by the world. In fact, there is a very disproportionate focus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to the point that other conflicts in the region, not to mention the Third World, receive scant attention and commentary. This summer, for example, during the seven-week-long war between Hamas and Israel, there was saturation coverage of the situation, at a time when far more people were murdered on a daily basis in Syria and Iraq, not to mention Africa or Afghanistan.

What Dr Qutob also ignores is that Israeli Arabs (a minority of over 20pc of the Israeli population) are the most secure and safest Arabs in the entire region. This is why opinion polls show that most Israeli Arabs are proud to consider themselves Israeli citizens. They can see on their TV sets every day the nightmare that stalks the Arab World, of which ISIS is merely the most extreme manifestation.

Dr Derek O’Flynn

Press Officer

Embassy of Israel

Has fiscal advice come too late?

“Everybody is utterly turned off by Ireland’s Fiscal Advisory Council”, according to Shane Ross.

He did not mention the fact that we could have done with what he calls “this academic quintet containing … four professors and an economist” during the years of the boom. It might have challenged the people at the head of the government, financial institutions, etc, then and prevented them from bankrupting this country and contributing to its needing an €80bn bailout.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13

Irish Independent

Sharland

December 16, 2014

16 December 2014 Sharland

I still have arthritis in my left toe but its nearly gone. I go out to the paper sop, the post office, the chemist the tip, 6 bags of leaves gone, Mark and Spencers for Mary’s mussels, and the chemist again, and the Co op. Sharland comes to call.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up trout for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Gil Marks was a rabbi and cookery writer whose books explored the scriptural background of matzos, blintzes and latkes

Gil Marks

Gil Marks Photo: HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT

Gil Marks, who has died aged 62, was a celebrated rabbi-chef; his five books on kosher cuisine, which included the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (2010), catalogued such delicacies as honey-nut sfratto cookies (beloved of Tuscan Jews), Passover sponge cake, and blintzes and latkes of every description.

“To Jews, food is much more than just a form of nourishment or enjoyment,” wrote Marks. “Food plays a central part in Jewish ceremonies. There are two ways food is represented. First, there are foods that are biblically prescribed for rituals, and second are the Jewish comfort foods. When you eat them it brings back nostalgia and warmth, like matzo ball soup.”

The kosher rules that govern how food is acquired, cooked and eaten create a larderful of challenges for a chef. Pork and shellfish are forbidden, and further restrictions take effect during Passover, when eating and cooking any meat or dairy product is prohibited, as is the use of leavening agents. “It’s almost like a game to see what you can do with these limitations,” said Marks.

A self-confessed “Jewish foodie”, Marks combined the spiritual, historical and sensual in his books, which set out to educate Jewish and Gentile readers alike. “I’m… bringing the rabbi and rebbetzin [wife of a rabbi] in at one time,” he joked. “I can do the sermons and the speeches and the cooking demonstration too.”

Gilbert Stanley Marks was born on May 30 1952 in Charleston, West Virginia. He attended Talmudical Academy in Baltimore before studying Jewish History at Yeshiva University in New York. He remained at the university for a masters degree in social work and was ordained as a rabbi at the affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. From 1986 to 1992 he edited Kosher Gourmet magazine, after which he turned to his own writing, publishing his first cookbook, The World of Jewish Cooking: More Than 500 Traditional Recipes from Alsace to Yemen, four years later.

Marks considered that by providing delicious suggestions for Passover he was helping Jews to bond with their forefathers: “Eating these foods is transcending time. You’re eating the same food as ancestors 3,000 years before.”

Marks wrote of the pleasures of the Seder plate, a collection of symbolic foods. These include bitter herbs, which represent the harsh experience of enslavement, and matzos, which allude to the unleavened bread that the Israelites ate on their exile from Egypt. He liked to repeat the well-worn Jewish joke: “They tried to kill us, we won, now let’s eat.” The Seder feast, he said, was “an educational tool for parents to instruct children on the beginning of biblical history”.

Cookery books by Gil Marks

The historical and scriptural context of recipes and culinary traditions informed much of his writing and teaching. For instance, he explained that during Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) Jewish taste buds search out sugary treats as “a reflection of a hope for a sweet year to come”.

Marks himself had a sweet tooth. Some reviewers, however, claimed that he had stretched the definition of a Jewish pudding too far in his survey The World of Jewish Desserts (2000). “As with many of the recipes included here,” complained one critic, “the Hungarian sugar cookies (klaitcha), Moroccan sweet yeast buns (fackasch), Turkish semolina custard pie (galactoboureko) and Alsatian fruit custard tart (tarte Alsacienne) are not traced by Marks to Jewish culinary tradition.”

In 2010 Marks’s studies culminated in a vast 650-page encyclopedia of Jewish food which included more than 300 recipes, from adafina (a Sephardic Sabbath stew) to melawach (a fried bread favoured by Yemenite Jews). His other books are The World of Jewish Entertaining: Menus and Recipes for the Sabbath, Holidays, and Other Family Celebrations (1998) and Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities around the World (2004), which won a James Beard Foundation Award. He had recently completed a history of American cakes.

Although he was a long-standing resident of New York, towards the end of his life Marks moved to Israel, settling near his family in Alon Shvut, a settlement south-west of Jerusalem. He became an Israeli citizen in 2012, the year he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Writing to a friend soon after his diagnosis, Marks joked that he was more concerned with the state of his meringues: “Left them in the oven overnight to dry. Forgot and turned on the oven to start the day’s cooking. Not a pretty sight.”

He continued to write an online column on confectionery and teach cooking classes to local children until shortly before his death.

Gil Marks was unmarried and is survived by his mother, two brothers and two sisters.

Gil Marks, born May 30 1952, died December 5 2014

Guardian:

A worker collects coffee beans in Nicaragua
A worker collects coffee beans in Nicaragua. Photograph: Inti Ocon/AFP/Getty Images

While there’s no doubt corporate power needs to be curbed, Nesrine Malik (Opinion, 10 December) proposes a “single sales factor apportionment” to tax corporations based on where sales are made, not where profits are reported. But sales are where profits are realised, not where they are made. Offshore production of goods and services consumed in the UK will mean the workers producing these goods and services – and creating the profits – will get little benefit from tax receipts in their country compared to the UK. This would apply to developing world commodities, such as coffee and precious metals, largely ending up as consumer goods in the west, where the tax would end up under the single sales factor apportionment.
Ted Watson
Brighton, East Sussex

• As you say (Editorial, 13 December), government does indeed have powers that it shrinks from using in dealing with antisocial firms, and you cite the need to force those vying for public contracts to pay the living wage. One obvious place to begin is with the clinical commissioning groups handing out tens of millions to contracting firms as the NHS is privatised by stealth. Stockport NHS Watch, a voluntary group formed to monitor the awarding of contracts by the Stockport CCG, has been urging the inclusion of an ethical clause in its procurement policy that would require the payment of the living wage. Hiding behind “legal advice”, the content of which has not been disclosed, the CCG has rejected this and, in consequence, a formal complaint was entered last week that it has failed in its statutory duty to consult in good faith with interested parties. It may be too much to hope that the embarrassment of having to defend the indefensible will cause the CCG to have second thoughts. A surer way of forcing progress would be for the Labour party to pledge that its intended repeal of the Health and Social Care Act will include an obligation on all CCGs to apply such a measure in future contracts.
Dr Anthony Carew
Stockport, Cheshire

• You editorial should have added two points. First, once a contract has been agreed between a company and a local council or part of central government, the documents should be made available for viewing by the public. Second, directors of companies should be held personally liable for fines imposed on their company for any acts of malfeasance. That would concentrate their minds.
Richard Dargan
Old Coulsdon, Surrey

Activistsin Belgium protest against TTIP
Activists demonstrate against the planned TTIP free trade agreement in Brussels, Belgium, December 2014. Photograph: Jonas Sch ll/dpa/Corbis

Ian Traynor (Report, 9 December) makes some powerful points for and against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between Washington and Brussels. There is some difficult negotiating ahead and ultimately a rough ride during the ratification process in the European parliament, since the Lisbon treaty gave the parliament the final say over all trade agreements. The Europeans surely will want some say over the limits of US companies tax avoidance manoeuvres in Europe. Equally, there will be a major stand-off between US and European-style regulation. They will need to be harmonised to bring the full benefits to both sides, but at the moment they are poles apart. Exactly where the compromise ends up matters.

Globally TTIP is one leg of a triangle of deals. There are the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations between the US and 11 Asian Pacific countries, but dominated by Japan-US bilateral trade, and the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement now in the final phase of negotiations. But if we want to negotiate from a position of strength, we should seal the deal with Japan first, getting Tokyo on board with our high standards of consumer, environmental and safety regulations. The EU-Japan deal would be the world’s biggest trade agreement, with only the TTIP as a potentially bigger deal. With that in the bag, Brussels – and Tokyo – would have powerful leverage over Washington to ensure a TTIP agreement shaped in our interests and reflecting our concerns.
Glyn Ford
Former MEP and member of the international trade committee

• Some 340 cases are known to have gone to arbitration under existing trade and investment agreements with ISDS, a model in which decisions are made by arbitrators who are not accountable to anyone, under a process in which civil society has no right to know who has given evidence, what that evidence was, or what arguments were made, and has no right of appeal. Hence in a dispute between a company and a government, the decision may negate democratic government policy.
Jenny Parsons
Cottingham, East Yorkshire

• Contrary to your report, the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the proposed TTIP could well give corporations more powers over national sovereignty. The government’s own report on ISDS, by LSE Enterprise, found that the analogous Nafta pact permitted US corporations to mount 34 compensation claims in 15 years against Canada over corporate business exclusion because of state restrictions, such as health and environmental regulations. These claims amounted to $5bn at an average cost and even when unsuccessful, cost $4m to the defending party. Under TTIP the amount of cases and costs would probably be higher because of the greater volume of business between the US and UK. So it is incorrect to dub European fears “not necessarily rational”. They could be, for example, a significant financial deterrent to any “de-privatisation” of the NHS.
Bryn Jones
Bath

• You say governments could “force firms vying for public contracts to pay a living wage”. But already, under a treaty between France and Egypt including ISDS, French multinational Veolia is suing the Egyptian government for compensation after it dared to raise the minimum wage. The Guardian has an immense power for good when you throw its full weight into a campaign, as you have done admirably over NSA and GCHQ. But you’ve done little to publicise the TTIP, which is a far greater long-term threat to democracy. Please join the fight against TTIP and ISDS before it’s too late.
John Heawood
York

luxembourg city centre
‘Companies such as Skype and Disney are among the firms using Luxembourg for tax avoidance.’ Photograph: Graeme Robertson

George Monbiot’s proposals for fighting corporate power (8 December) are spot-on with one exception. The concessions he makes to “commercial confidentiality” would open a loophole that would be exploited to the full. Perhaps there are areas where some kind of confidentiality is justified on commercial grounds, and where the public interest in transparency should be overruled, but I have never understood precisely what these are. Any exceptions should be very much limited, and subject to tight independent scrutiny.
Kevin McGrath
Harlow, Essex

• One problem with the primacy of shareholders is the role of institutional investors. These allocate our money saved in pensions and Isas, yet we have no direct way to hold to account the companies where they invest our money. Institutional investors are supposed to act on our behalf, but they have their own interests and incentives. Savers are shut out of the investment system, unable to influence corporate behaviour as shareholders.
Dr Alex May
Manchester

• You reveal (Case studies, 10 December) that Skype and Disney are among the firms using Luxembourg for tax avoidance. It is even more disturbing that companies which contract with the UK government, such as Atos, Serco, G4S, and train companies, such as East Midlands Trains also use extensive tax avoidance methods. This not only undermines the tax base, offering George Osborne an excuse for further massive cuts in public expenditure, it also undermines fair competition, weakening the relative position of purely UK-based companies. We need new government procurement rules which ban companies which engage in elaborate tax-avoidance schemes from competing for government contracts. This would probably require agreement at EU level.
David Price
Sheffield 

• There have been a lot of stories about the Big Six (energy companies) and the Big Five (banks). Isn’t it about time we learned more about the Big Four: EY, Deloitte, KPMG and PWC and what part the auditors’ advice plays?
Ruth Eversley
Paulton, Somerset

• We now learn that, as well as bankers, senior officials of the Financial Conduct Authority expect annual bonuses (Report, 11 December). Why?
Professor John Bryant
Exeter

• I’m thoroughly enjoying your expose of the tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg, however i’m puzzled by the silence on the matter from Labour party, is it because some of these schemes have been designed by KPMG, which, you point out, paid for Ed Balls’s researcher?
Nicholas Whitmore
Newcastle upon Tyne

Occupy protesters in Parliament Square
Protestors from the Occupy group attempt to stop traffic in Parliament Square, November 2014. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

While your Taming corporate power series offered some useful ideas for reining in the power of corporations, it largely failed to confront the fact that our government and politics has become so corrupted by corporate power that such reforms are highly unlikely. What is required, we believe, is to first make reforms to our democracy so that it starts to work for the common good rather than private interests. This requires removing the influence of corporations entirely through reforms in the areas of party funding and lobbying, closing the revolving door between government and corporations, ending the culture of corporate secondment, introducing proportional representation, democratising the City of London Corporation and the removal of the Remembrancer.

Obviously, as supporters of a direct action organisation looking to create a mass movement, we don’t believe politicians will roll over and enact these reforms if simply asked. Thus we assert the need for a mass gathering of people every month in Parliament Square until the general election, simultaneously putting pressure on politicians while creating a space where people can learn about corporate influence and experience true democracy.
Joseph Todd and Phil England
#occupydemocracy activists, London

• Good analysis but wishful thinking by Nesrine Malik (10 December) that what’s required to chop “global fat cats … down to size” is solely “political pressure from voters”. After huge public and NGO pressure against it, Cameron’s Lobbying Act, as George Monbiot said, “restricts the activities of charities and trade unions but imposes no meaningful restraint on corporations”. Similarly the Health and Social Care Act became law in spite of tremendous public and professional outcry against it, voted in by many politicians with interests in healthcare companies. Revolving doors are also thriving illustrated by Deloitte’s (formerly HMRC’s) Dave Hartnett and NHS England’s Simon Stevens (formerly United Health group and Blair’s adviser). The Remembrancer and his lawyers represent City of London interests from their office in the House of Commons. Such formidable powers can be opposed but it will take at the very least a brave campaigning newspaper, together with campaigning email petitioners, to galvanise and organise those voters.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

An electronic stock board
‘Too many companies have become increasingly financialised, so that their primary objective is realising a short-term profit.’ Photograph: Stringer Shanghai/REUTERS

Prem Sikka provides a welcome counterblast to the prevailing orthodoxy of the sanctity of shareholder supremacy and corporate power (Break the stranglehold of shareholders, 11 December). In an era where long-term investment in research and development is needed, the current corporate framework actively promotes short-term decision making. In 1991, UK pension funds and insurance companies, traditionally long-term investors, held over 50% of UK shares. Now they hold around 13%. No wonder that, according to the Economist, Britain was 159th out of 173 countries ranked by investment as a share of GDP in 2012 – five places behind Mali.

In a world where hedge funds and other high-frequency traders are responsible for nearly three-quarters of market turnover, shareholders have less and less attachment to the companies they own. It is therefore hardly surprising that all too many companies operate with short-term horizons, and have become increasingly financialised, so that making something or providing a public or private service is secondary to their primary objective of realising a short-term profit.

Until the governance structure of companies is changed, corporate power will always serve the interests of the few on the top floor rather than the many on the ground floor of wider society.
Peter Skyte
London

• Corporate power and shareholder power are not the same thing. When the shareholders of British Gas wanted to remove Cedric Brown as CEO in the 90s, they turned up en masse at the AGM to vote him out. But their votes were meaningless because the board was able to vote the proxies of all the corporate shareholders. It would be unfair to abolish limited liability, as George Monbiot suggests (8 December), and make small shareholders shoulder the blame for the board’s actions when they have no control over them.

Limited liability has only existed since the middle of the 19th century;; before that, the liability of a company’s owners was unlimited. This may have been the “invisible hand” that Adam Smith talked about, which ensured that otherwise self-interested businessmen behaved in a moral manner.

Getting rid of limited liability would not work anyway, as so many people would want to sell their shares that the stock market would crash. But without the invisible hand of unlimited liability, some external force, like regulation, is necessary.
Dudley Turner
Westerham, Kent

• To strip all companies of limited liability would certainly be a nuclear option which would be difficult to implement, except perhaps,for hedge funds and the like. I would suggest a more modest approach. At present directors have, or believe they have, only one obligation: to maximise shareholder value. This is often interpreted as being in the short term, even if this results in lower long-term growth or even in the destruction of the company through asset stripping.

From 1963 to 1974, I was the chief financial officer of Booker’s agricultural division, employing some 20,000 people. Under Jock Campbell, our ethos was to balance our obligations to our customers, our workers, the countries in which we operated in and, of course, our shareholders.
Ross Randall
Richmond, Surrey

• Oligopolies run contrary to free market economics and to democracy (The giants walk off with our billions. No more something for nothing, Aditya Chakrabortty, 9 December). People and communities are being stripped of their control over the necessities – energy, transport, housing and others – that matter most. Democratisation of markets is essential to put power back in the hands of the people.

Fortunately, a quiet revolution is well underway. Across the country, businesses, consumers and entrepreneurs are creating a new social economy – one where alternatives such as community energy, social investment and co-operative housing groups are rebalancing the economy. The state, with its enormous spending power, is a market-maker. It must use this power to create markets that harness the enormous social and economic advances already happening in communities across the country.
Dan Gregory
Director, Social Economy Alliance
Peter Holbrook
Chief executive, Social Enterprise UK

• The fundamental question we must face when considering the power of corporations is ownership. This is now largely concentrated in the large corporations with mostly undesirable consequences.The question of ownership was recognised in the 19th century by many local authorities that owned local utilities. It was recognised by the 1945 Labour government when it attempted, with varying degrees of success, to transfer private to public capital in the form of the nationalised industries.

Surely the only effective way of taming corporate power is to transfer private ownership of capital into public ownership. How we do this, the form it takes, and how we democratically supervise the institutions created should be the main focus of our attention.
Jack Mitchell
Cambridge

Taming corporate power deals only with symptoms. The deeper problem is the freedom given to individuals to pursue their interests, subject to competition and choice. Though widely accepted and useful for clearing markets where supply and demand are elastic, this selfish rubric is the root of the problem. It is the opposite of the values taught by religions: restraint, concern for others, cooperation and loyalty to the common weal. Democracy gave capital the power to pursue its own interests. Why are people surprised it does not serve theirs? Up to a point, free capital serves peoples’ interests. It travels the globe finding people to make goods and ensures they are well made and reliable too. But it is not required to create a sustainable global economy or to preserve nation states. So why is anyone surprised when it optimises return on its capital? Though often rather short term, this is what it is required to do.
George Talbot
Watford, Hertfordshire

Independent:

Times:

Sir, In his book 1914, Field Marshal Sir John French, commander-in- chief of the British Army in the field at the time, talks about the “Christmas Armistice”. He believed that the idea was first mooted by the Pope but that Allied governments refused to entertain the idea and admitted that when reports of spontaneous and unauthorised truces came to him, he issued immediate orders that they were to cease.

However, he went on to write that he attached the utmost importance to chivalry in war and that had the question of an armistice for a day been submitted (formally) to him he is not sure that he would have dissented from it. He made his name as a dashing young cavalry officer in the Boer war where he had experienced and been part of a similar arrangement on Christmas day with the “most generous and chivalrous foe”.

He finished his musings by saying that, “Soldiers should have no politics”, but, “emulating the knights of old, should honour a brave enemy only second to a comrade and like them rejoice to split a friendly lance today and ride boot to boot in the charge tomorrow”.
Christopher Durnford

St Mawes, Cornwall

Sir, Malcolm Neale (letter, Dec 13) shows a misunderstanding of the nature of the men involved in the early months of the conflict. My grandfather’s battalion included many veterans of previous conflicts. The battalion had been reinforced by special reserve volunteers who knew exactly what they were doing. Many of these volunteers were “over-age” men with families: they did not go blindly into the conflict.

Educationally, while a number of them had only received a modest education, many were artisans and craftsmen before joining the army. The battalion’s officers were generally privately educated and many had been through Sandhurst. A number of the officers had travelled widely before the war and had close connections with different countries and cultures.

To say that these men “didn’t know where they were, nor why” does them an injustice and is a misrepresentation of the character and intelligence of the men of the British Army in 1914. Incidentally, the battalion enjoyed a period of calm from December 20 to December 31, 1914 and Major Hicks, the CO, reported that from Christmas day until the new year they entered into an informal truce with the 133rd Saxon Regiment.
The Rev Damon Rogers

Lowestoft, Suffolk

Sir, Christmas 1914 was only a few months after the war started and many of the men involved will only have been weeks into the experience. Trench warfare, as we now visualise it, did not really start until early 1915 when Sir John French ordered his men to entrench and the Germans did likewise. No records have come to light of the truce being repeated in any following years of the conflict.

Also, it must not be assumed that the “truce” happened all along the battle line. Bill Clarke, a correspondent for the Daily Mail who had managed to smuggle himself into the Flanders battle zone despite a government ban on reporters at the front, reported: “The Germans came down upon the countryside in a fury of hate, their fiercest onslaught of the week they reserved for Christmas day . . . the guns thumped, the machine guns tapped, and the rifles cracked. That was the music of Christmas.”
Martyn Thatcher

Winsford, Cheshire

Sir, We marvel at the truce but from the early 11th century the Peace and Truce of God movements banned fighting on feast days and Sundays. Marc Morris in The Norman Conquest says that this was driven by “a groundswell of popular enthusiasm and indignation, large crowds had gathered in great open-air assemblies to decry the violence”. Clare Moore’s idea (letter, Dec 13) of return football matches, might have started a modern Truce of God, or its secular equivalent and such activity by ordinary soldiers might have spared the following horrors.
Charles Bazlinton
Alresford, Hants

Sir, Clare Moore asks what would have happened if the Christmas match had been followed by games on December 26, 27 and 28. I think it’s pretty obvious. The Germans would have won on penalties.
Oliver Breckon

Ormesby, N Yorks

Sir, The well-meaning article by Matt Ridley on IT catastrophes (Opinion, Dec 15) is off-beam. He lumps together failing IT projects and crashing IT systems in the same category; they are not and require different approaches. He also lauds the “new” Darwinian way of doing things in government IT. This is called using “pilot” schemes for big projects and is as old as the hills. Finally, the system of usable websites whose requirements are dictated by users and professionals from outside IT has been written about for a long time in the IT press.
Terry Critchley
Knutsford, Cheshire

Sir, The main reason why major IT projects overspend and fail is frequently that nobody has defined the objectives that the project should be designed to achieve. The result is that, as the project develops, it has to be altered at great expense and delay. Projects often have to be abandoned because they do not satisfy the real need once it becomes clear. It is essential to understand the real needs for the project and clearly define how those needs can be achieved.
Dr Peter Primrose

Malpas, Cheshire

Sir, While we debate whether the Nobel laureate James Watson deserves our pity (“This racist, sexist genius deserves no pity”, Opinion Dec 13) we should perhaps spare a thought for the 19th-century Swiss scientist Johann Friedrich Miescher, who would no doubt be spinning in his grave to hear Watson hailed as the “joint discoverer of DNA”.

In 1869, Miescher first isolated a complex of DNA and protein before later going on to purify DNA from salmon sperm. In the first half of the 20th century a whole host of scientists made studies of the chemical and physical properties of this material, the most notable of which was the work of a shy, retiring US clinician called Oswald Avery who, nine years before Watson and Crick published their paper in Nature, obtained strong evidence that DNA was the genetic material. Watson and Crick’s subsequent discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA gave a molecular explanation of this process. It was a fine vindication of Sir Isaac Newton’s famous remark that, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
Dr Kersten Hall

University of Leeds

Sir, The radar image showing aircraft in a holding pattern over Heathrow on Friday (News, Dec 13) actually depicts aircraft on the ground, including one landing or taking off from the northern runway. There is a holding pattern over Biggin Hill in Kent and another at Lambourne in Essex; much farther away from the airport. Had the planes actually been stacked over the runways, there might have been rather more chaos over the airport than there was at the airport itself.
Julian Bennett

Halstead, Essex

Sir, I endorse Libby Purves’s comments (Opinion, Dec 15) about the “endless war of outrage”. But there is a factor in all her examples (and others not mentioned) which encourages the outrage. People make a public comment, the outrage starts, they swiftly apologise or withdraw the remarks. So either they didn’t really mean what they said, or they lack courage. I’m waiting for someone to say, “Yes, I said that, no I’m not going to apologise, this is my view, you can take it or leave it”.
Algy Cole

Altrincham, Gtr Manchester

 

Telegraph:

Letters: Ukip’s early policy on immigration; Pensioner Bond income; First World War football; heckling from cereal; and Dylan’s big surprise

Enoch Powell on the campaign trail

Enoch Powell on the campaign trail Photo: PA

SIR – Your report on Ukip’s relationship with Enoch Powell brings back happy memories. I was the only Ukip candidate he ever spoke for at a public meeting, at Newbury race course, 1993.

When I wrote a Eurosceptic constitution for Europe for the Bruges Group he called it the best attempt ever made to square the circle of British independence and association with Europe.

We never discussed immigration. Under my leadership, Ukip never interested itself in the issue, which in the mid-1990s was not a topic of public debate. I do not believe he was a racist.

Enoch Powell’s support was over Europe. He backed my stance that we should send no MEPs to Brussels and accept no income from the European Parliament. As soon as I quit the party, and after Enoch’s death, Mr Farage was happy to become an MEP and take over £2 million from the European Parliament in expenses. The clause in the party membership form which laid down boycotting the European Parliament as a principle of the party was removed. It is now a home for dimwitted opportunists.

Were he alive today, Enoch Powell would treat Nigel Farage and Ukip with contempt.

Professor Alan Sked
London School of Economics
London WC2

SIR – A friend of my parents served in the Second World War in north Africa with Enoch Powell. Some 15 years later he sought Powell’s support for the European cause in Kenya, threatened as it appeared to be by African nationalism. Powell politely but firmly refused to take sides.

Shortly afterwards news of illegal killings at the Hola detention camp leaked out, with the attempted cover-up by the Kenya and British governments. Powell castigated the authorities in one of the most eloquent and influential contributions ever heard in the Commons.

Illiberal and racist? I hardly think so.

C J W Minter
London SW6

SIR – Enoch Powell was well past his best both physically and in influence by the 1990s. I would have had deep misgivings about him as prime minister, due to his anti-Americanism and softness on communism – although his prediction that the Soviet Union would break up turned out to be prescient.

However, when Heath sacked Powell in a mockery of justice the Conservative party should have sacked Heath. They have, of course, a record of choosing Balfour over Chamberlain, Chamberlain over Churchill, Major over Redwood, and Cameron over Davis, as well as Heath over Powell.

Mark Taha
London SE26

SIR – You report that Nigel Farage, as a teenager meeting Powell, found that he “dazzled me for once into an awestruck silence”. It’s a great shame that this effect didn’t persist.

Harvey Clegg
Woodbridge, Suffolk

Bail time-bomb

SIR – The proposal to cap the pre-charge bail period at 28 days (Letters, December 2) is well-intentioned but profoundly flawed. Grounds for bail are recorded in writing and open to scrutiny, and if conditions are attached they must be proportionate and not onerous. Any aspect can be challenged by the subject or their legal representative, as the Human Rights Act demands that a suspect must have swift access to justice.

An excessive period on bail can in itself cause a case to fail. The law stipulates that inquiries must be conducted expeditiously, and strict, clear and accountable legal safeguards already exist.

A limit of 28 days’ bail is unfeasibly short. A simple forensic test may take weeks to be completed. On its return, a further interview may be needed, which could require further evidence-gathering.At the conclusion of the investigation, a Crown Prosecution Service decision will usually be required, which can take days, weeks, or in complex cases, months.

My last four years as a police sergeant, until I retired in 2011, were spent in the custody system, managing bail records and procedures. I find it hard to believe that those who call for a 28-day limit have sufficient understanding of the Pandora’s box they seek to open.

Rupert Battersby
Chester

Sunny side up

SIR – Thousands of houses and thousands of solar panels await planning permission on agricultural land. Why can’t solar panels be put on the roofs of all new houses, which at least would save some farmland?

Sue Samuelson
Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire

Painless performances

SIR – Some years ago I had a small job of surgery done under local anaesthetic. A few minutes listening to the barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffman while an elderly nurse gently stroked my hand was pure bliss.

George Teasdale
Leeds, West Yorkshire

SIR – When I had some surgery under local anaesthetic, the surgeon asked if I would like some music. I chose Mozart. After half an hour or so, the surgeon announced: “It’s all downhill from now.” I had to ask how his comment should be taken, since the piece being played was Mozart’s Requiem.

Eric Holloway
Banbury, Oxfordshire

Pensioners’ savings

Pensioner Bonds will be issued by the Government through National Savings & Investments

SIR – Interest on the heralded pensioner bonds is paid each year (or after three years, for the higher-yield bond). Most pensioners seek income monthly and can’t wait a year or three. An example of out-of-touch government.

Michael Edwards
Haslemere, Surrey

Sexualisation

SIR – A mystery of our age is increasing feminisation of most walks of life – politics, education, the Church, medicine – being accompanied by ever-greater sexualisation.

Are the two related? Or is the latter explained by the boundaries of what sells always being pushed and the opportunities for doing this never having been greater?

Bryan Clark
Ludlow, Shropshire

Trench football

SIR – Michael Worfolk’s letter (December 13) on his father’s diary entry for December 25 1915, when English and German troops played football, mentions “an officer of the Scots Guards” and “court martials”.

Two Scots Guards officers, Iain Colquhoun and my grandfather, Miles Barne, were court-martialled for fraternising with the enemy, though a High Command order forbidding this had, it seems, not been passed on by the sector’s senior officer, Brigadier John Ponsonby.

According to the historian Randall Nicol, Iain Colquhoun was “nonchalant” about the charge, whereas my grandfather was “very low”. Neither blamed the Brigadier, who did his utmost to defend them.

My grandfather was acquitted and, although Iain Colquhoun was convicted, his punishment was struck out by Earl Haig, who ordered that the records be expunged of any reference to the incident.

My grandfather was killed two years later when a bomb was inadvertently dropped on his tent by a British aircraft.

Anthony Barne
Milton Lilbourne, Wiltshire

With this ring…

SIR – Simon Edsor (Letters, December 13) asks when it became fashionable for men to wear wedding rings. My ring has not been removed since my wedding day more than 50 years ago. My father also wore his from his wedding day, before 1940.

Keith Taylor
Hinton Cantiacorum, Herefordshire

SIR – I have been married to my husband for more than 40 years and I do not wear a wedding ring. I do not “belong” to anyone.

Julie Juniper
Bridport, Dorset

Cold comfort

SIR – I read the report about arguments over home thermostat settings with some amusement. My stance is this: would you put your central heating on during a summer’s evening when the ambient temperature was, say, 15C? No. Then why heat your house to 22C in the winter?

If you think it is cold inside, go outside for a few minutes and come back in again. Your viewpoint will no doubt have changed.

Ted Bourn
Waterlooville, Hampshire

Blue Eyes Blues

Bob Dylan (right) is recording an album of songs once sung by Sinatra Photo: Rex Features

SIR –You know that the end is nigh when Bob Dylan records covers of Sinatra standards. Didn’t see that coming.

Liam Power
Bangor Erris, Co Mayo, Ireland

Blame the buzzard

When rabbits run low, buzzards may turn to killing other birds Photo: ALAMY

SIR – The decline in many avian species (Charles Moore, Comment, December 13) – a matter of concern to me, a farmer – is due to the buzzard being “top bird” in most areas of the United Kingdom.

It is not preyed upon. A small number are killed by motor vehicles. On my farm in the past 10 years, I have lost all the snipe, redshank, oystercatchers, woodcock, lapwing and a great many voles.

Their decline is not helped by the decline in rabbit numbers, through myxomatosis. When resident buzzards find their traditional food source is absent, they prey on other bird species, whose populations suffer.

To allow these species to recolonise their habitats, some culling, by shooting, of buzzards is required. It would be a mistake to exterminate them, as their role would then be taken over by sparrowhawks, kestrels and merlins, and the countryside would be no better off.

If only countrymen (in the truest sense of that word) were permitted to control many species of birds and mammals and thus create a desirable balance of nature, the countryside would be a more interesting and ecologically more sustainable environment for all to enjoy.

Angus Jacobsen
Inverbervie, Angus

Impertinent greetings from prospective meals

SIR – It isn’t just Nigel Milliner’s Cornish Blue that is issuing seasonal greetings (Letters, December 12). I’ve noticed that my (Kellogg’s) breakfast cereal box wishes me, in large letters, a “Merry Crunchmas”.

Hugh Stewart-Smith
London E11

SIR – Stephanie Mariam is spending £2,000 on her dogs at Christmas (report, December 11). My poor Nova Scotia tollers will have to make do with a four-mile walk, a swim in the lake, mud up to their elbows, a few squirrels to chase, my left-over sprouts and gravy on their evening meal, then a sleep by the fire. No Santa Claws for them. Lucky they don’t read the paper.

Nairn Lawson
Portbury, Somerset

SIR – The trouble with leaving Christmas preparations to women is that they tend to be too tasteful. Proper enjoyment of Christmas requires the liberal application of festive bling, the more naff the better. Only men and children can cast good taste aside sufficiently for the required effect.

Damien McCrystal
London W14

SIR – My husband once brought home a Christmas tree and, finding it too tall, cut 2ft off the top of it. I retrieved it from the dustbin and stuck it back on with Sellotape. He still does not understand what he did wrong.

Louise Faure
Buntingford, Hertfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – On behalf of the Palestinian people, I wish to thank members of Dáil Éireann for their unanimous support last Wednesday for the motion which calls on the Government to “officially recognise the State of Palestine, on the basis of the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital”. This followed the passing of a similar motion in Seanad Éireann on October 22nd.

A total of 135 states in the world have already recognised Palestine as a state, including nine members of the EU, most recently Sweden. I hope that Ireland will become the 136th in the near future.

For many years, Ireland has been to the fore in seeking justice for the Palestinian people, for which we will be eternally grateful. In February 1980 in the Bahrain Declaration, Ireland was the first European state to declare explicitly that the Palestinian people “had a right to self-determination and to the establishment of an independent state in Palestine”.

Ever since, successive Irish governments have remained committed to the establishment of a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza, existing alongside and at peace with the state of Israel.

In November 2012, Ireland voted in favour of a resolution in the UN general assembly, which granted Palestine observer rights as a “non-member state” at the UN. The success which Ireland helped to achieve then opens up the possibility of Palestine becoming a member of organisations associated with the UN, including the International Criminal Court.

Our quest for a two-state solution was crowned in November 1988 when the PLO declared the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem as its capital. With this declaration, the PLO adopted the objective of establishing a Palestinian state on only 22 per cent of our historic homeland, with the Israeli state continuing to exist in the other 78 per cent. This was a compromise of extraordinary generosity on our part, which opened up the way to a two-state solution.

However, rather than work for the two-state solution, Israel dramatically consolidated its control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, by accelerating the colonisation process, especially following the Oslo Agreement in 1993.

There were around 135,000 Jewish settlers living in occupied territory in 1993, now the total number is approaching 600,000. And the colonisation process is continuing relentlessly. An obstruction to the creation of a viable Palestinian state that was manageable in 1988 is a major obstacle today – and it continues to grow. The possibility of a viable Palestinian state being established is fast disappearing.

Ireland has been to the fore in demanding that Israel cease this colonisation, which is contrary to international law (since Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention bans an occupying power like Israel from transferring its own civilian population into territory it has taken over by force). However, as everybody knows, Israel has simply ignored all requests to desist, including those made by the UN security council.

In The Irish Times on November 26th, Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and his Finnish counterpart, Erkki Tuomioja, wrote: “We have time and time again called on the Israeli authorities to end this settlement policy, which clearly contradicts international law. But commitment is nothing without action. Continuation of this policy must bring a strong response from the international community, including the EU, if our commitment to upholding international law is to be taken seriously.”

If this is an indication that the EU is prepared to supplement words with effective action to halt Israeli colonisation, then it is greatly to be welcomed – and not a moment too soon. – Yours, etc,

AHMAD ABDELRAZEK,

Ambassador

of the State of Palestine,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Prof Nancy Hopkins (December 10th) writes about “unconscious gender bias” at the top in science. I would argue that by far the most notorious example of gender bias in Irish universities is the existence of a number of women’s and gender studies centres, several of which have existed for more than 20 years and which are overwhelmingly staffed by women. According to the US writer Daphne Patai, they are more concerned with political activism than with scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge. They share a common ideology, central to which is the notion that gender is socially constructed and that biology has little or nothing to do with gender; openness to any challenge to this ideology or to criticism appears to be at a minimum. This is all the more extraordinary since science has refuted its central tenet and has shown biology plays an undoubted and perhaps a major role in gender construction.

An example of how the pretensions of gender studies can be exposed occurred in 2012 when the NIKK Nordic Gender Institute was closed. The decision was made after Norwegian state television had broadcast a documentary in which the unscientific character of the NIKK and its research was exposed. The whole enterprise was based on ideology with no basis in evidence. – Yours, etc,

DAVID WALSH,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – As a youngster growing up in Dublin, the hero of all the males in my family and school was Jackie Kyle. I used to go to Lansdowne Road, stand for hours in the schoolboy stand and watch him mesmerise the opposition with his jinking runs and he seemed to single handedly orchestrate their defeat. After the match, I would wait for him to come out of the dressing room to get his autograph. He never complained that this was, as he probably knew, the 10th autograph he had signed for me and just simply asked “What’s your name, son?” and signed “To Jimmy, best wishes Jackie Kyle”.

When I played rugby with my brothers I always wanted to be Jackie Kyle playing outhalf for Ireland. They could have the rest of the options to themselves. I often dreamed of scoring a try in the last minute to win the Triple Crown. I was devastated when he retired.

Years later and I was in my forties and working with John O’Shea in Goal. John arranged sports events to raise money for the third world and there was a star-studded group of rugby players helping at various functions. Moss Keane, Ray McLoughlin, Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies, Tom Grace and many others all answered the call. One night I heard that among those helping would be Jackie Kyle. I couldn’t wait to meet him and talk about all the tries he scored and all those moments we shared. I did meet him and he was very gracious and pleasant but he did’t seem to want to talk about rugby. All he wanted to talk about was the great work John O’Shea was doing through sport in Goal. Despite my initial disappointment in this, I began later to realise that by seeing things this way and by his own life’s dedication to the poor in Africa, he was an even bigger hero than I had initially thought. – Yours, etc,

JIMMY CASEY,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The teachings of most churches on same-sex practices and the idea of marriage are well-known. There can be no other position for a committed practitioner of almost any major world faith to take, if they truly accept the precepts of their faith.

I will admit that this position is weakened by the fact that many ignore some of the other teachings of their faiths when it suits and that the holy books of various faiths are reinterpreted for modern society (for example, stoning for adultery is rather frowned upon these days).

Shouldn’t the separation of religion and state, so necessary to a true republic, ensure that an option such as a civil partnership or perhaps civil marriage be available to those who have no problem with it? After all, those whose faith doesn’t allow divorce would not avail of it, even if sanctioned by the civil state, would they? – Yours, etc,

JOHN COLLINS,

Skeaghvasteen,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Although the Government and Irish Water displayed unbelievable ineptitude in their handling of the issue, they eventually explained to my satisfaction why there is a need for the creation of a company to manage the system. Having looked at my accounts, noting the recent tax adjustments and the water charges, I calculate that, with my moderate income, I will actually have more money (about €50 for the year) in 2015. This is the first time this has happened since 2009. The current charges will remain stable until after the next general election, at which time we will be able to pass judgment on the Government as against the various Opposition parties which, no doubt, will make a key part of their policies the promise to abolish the water charges while showing us how they intend to pay for the necessary repairs to the water system without raising taxes.

That, I believe, is how our democracy is supposed to function. – Yours, etc,

DAVE ROBBIE,

Booterstown, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The dreadful scenes that unfolded on our television screens last Tuesday night shamed our nation.

Those responsible must be held to account and there must be a thorough investigation into the whole care sector. But the avalanche of hatred directed against Áras Attracta workers on social media, including death threats and cruel taunting, achieves nothing. It is bullying of another sort and will not in any way help the victims of the kind of abuse we witnessed on Tuesday night.

Let justice take its course. Let’s act decisively to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

But lynch mobs and bullies we can do without. – Yours, etc,

JOHN FITZGERALD,

Callan,

Co Kilkenny.

A chara, – The situation where an increasing flow of families and individuals are being made homeless or mired in poverty because of escalating rents is a scandal of shocking proportions.

It brings to mind the campaign in the 19th century for the “Three Fs” – fair rent, fixity of tenure and free sale.

We certainly could do with a campaign around the first two “Fs” today.

Can we challenge the anger and outrage at the social injustices of Ireland today by continuing the protests instigated by the water charges but incorporating a call for fair rent and fixity of tenure also? To shame the Government, which is treating the citizens of Ireland just as callously as a remote government in Westminster did in the 19th century, into taking steps to establish some form of rent control and fixity of tenure? – Is mise,

ANNE HOLOHAN,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Frank McNally writes about Stephen Maturin, one of the two principal characters in Patrick O’Brian’s famous sequence of naval novels (“An Irishman’s Diary”, December 12th).

Maturin, supposedly of mixed Catalan and Irish Catholic ancestry, has the surname of an Irish Protestant family of Huguenot descent – the surname indeed of three Church of Ireland clerics listed in the Dictionary of Irish Biography. Still odder was O’Brian’s choice of the surname Palafox for an 18th-century Irish Protestant character in his little-known novel The Golden Ocean (1956). Palafox was the Aragonese general who defended Saragossa during the Peninsular war – a man with no links with Ireland, still less with Protestantism. – Yours, etc,

CDC ARMSTRONG,

Belfast.

Sir, – Some of my most memorable walks have taken place in Britain and France, in areas that feature extensive walking trails. For example, the coastal pathway around Devon and Cornwall stretches for almost 500km.

Notwithstanding the excellent Sheep’s Head Way network in west Cork, the Irish coastline is virtually devoid of designated walkways of any kind. The “keep out” lobby ensures that walking in rural Ireland is all about negativity and hostility, with walkers taking their chances on dangerous roads. Even the annual Croagh Patrick pilgrimage is under threat.

For Fáilte Ireland, it is a truth that dare not speak its name – walkers are not welcome in Ireland.

It is telling that while the Welsh government has proudly rolled out the 1,400km Welsh coastal path, Fáilte Ireland is promoting the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,000km car drive. – Yours, etc,

DAVID TURNER,

Cork.

Sir, – Now that the ESRI has reiterated and updated its research into the impact of austerity on various social groups (“Unemployed worst affected by budgets, says ESRI report”, December 12th), can we please look forward to hearing less about the squeezed middle, and more about the strangled poor and compressed rich? – Yours, etc,

SARA MacARTHUR,

Portmarnock, Co Dublin.

Snow business Sir, – I am disturbed at your report (December 12th) that the first “genuine” snow of the year has fallen in Donegal.

Does the rest of the country have to put up with artificial substitutes?

In a spirit of inter-county solidarity, I suggest that some of our genuine wind, rain and snow should be diverted to Dublin. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN DOHERTY,

Gaoth Dobhair,

Co Donegal.

Political mergers A chara, – With all of the recent Government U-turns, we may already have the “rotating taoiseach” that Paul Delaney (December 13th) wonders about. – Is mise,

LOMAN Ó LOINGSIGH,

Dublin 24.

On the cards

Sir, – Using social media in place of cards to wish friends and family happiness at this time of year? How terribly impersonal!

Checking the letterbox is still such fun to see who has sent a card. It takes time, effort and thought to send a Christmas card.

Long may the tradition continue! – Yours, etc,

LAURA O’MARA,

Stillorgan,

Co Dublin.

Wuff justice Sir, – “Good dogs go to heaven, Pope suggests” (Breaking News, December 13th). But what happens to naughty,mischievous pugs that shuffle off this mortal coil in a state of venial sin? Do they go directly to heaven or must they first undergo a period of purification in a place called “Pugatory”? – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Dalkey,

Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

A boy plays with water from a well in Twic County, South Sudan. Photo: Mark Condren

A boy plays with water from a well in Twic County, South Sudan. Photo: Mark Condren

I read with interest the news from Ireland over the water charges protests. What seems to have been a major concern was how many people were going to turn out to protest.

Let me say, from where I stand the crowds will be very small compared with the crowds around the world who have never – and I say never – had a glass of clean water to drink. Think about it.

I am Irish and what I am going to say next is true.

When you turn on your tap at home any hour of the day or night, what do you get? Clean water. Count your blessings again.

Remember, the next time you do it, think of the number of people who do not have piped water in their houses. There are millions around the world.

At present, I live in Sudan. This is what it is like.

In Malakal, we queue at a clean water source for hours in temperatures of 40C while water trickles from the one tap. There may be a hundred women in the line before me.

Next time you turn on your tap, think about them.

During the rainy season, this water is coloured brown, so we bring it home and boil it. We are happy to do so. Many times, these water sources break down from overuse, so we go to the Nile, whose waters are used for cleaning fish, washing clothes, cars etc.

But this is also the source of drinking water for thousands of people. I drive to the Nile. I know many women who have to walk 40 minutes to reach this water source every morning to bring home 20 litres of water for which they must pay.

To all of us Irish people, I say let us be thankful for what we have. Nothing much in life is free.

Sr Margaret Sheehan

Yambio, Western Equatoria,

Sudan

 

Knowing when to say nothing

Articulate men and women expound their opinions with confidence. They question everything but themselves.

Disparate views spewed out in a genuine belief that theirs is the answer.

And the rest of us will listen with respect because we are not articulate.

We would never submit our views to public scrutiny.

Fred Meaney

Dalkey, Co Dublin

 

From the horse’s mouth

Reading of the pastor in Mississippi who brought a horse in a wedding dress to stand outside a courthouse with him, reminded me of a comment made by Groucho Marx to his much put-upon co-star, Margaret Dumont: “I promise you that as long as I’m married to you I’ll never look at another horse.”

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

 

Caring for the most vulnerable

It sounds like the line from a song: ‘This must never happen again.’

When all is written regarding the infamous Bungalow 3 at the Aras Attracta care home, along with the many investigations into what happened, it’s a sure thing that those words will be used again and again.

‘This must never happen again.’

To say it shouldn’t have happened in the first place might be too near the mark, because no person – whether young, middle-aged or elderly – who depends on being cared for by any state nursing home or institution should live in fear of those who are paid to look after them.

It’s of little comfort to hear that other units or bungalows at Aras Attracta were well run.

They are all supposed to be well run.

There is an old saying: ‘Honest people must be watched’.

Look back on all of our so-called respectable institutions over the past 60 or 70 years, I’m sure you will agree that the ones we trusted were exposed as having been guilty of gross abuse, both criminal and otherwise.

We must not pretend to be shocked at what we saw.

We have seen much worse in the recent past and, for sure, it will continue as long as people are allowed to have power over the defenceless, especially those that cannot speak up for themselves.

Collective responsibility lies at the door of the health ministers, both past and present.

It is no excuse to say what amount of money is being spent on looking after these people; it is no excuse to say, as health minister, you set up this department and that department and it was their job to see that it did not happen.

It was your job to ensure that it did not happen.

Have we learned?

Do we care?

Maybe for a while – until something else turns up; perhaps more outrageous than what we saw last week.

Fred Molloy

Glenville, Clonsilla, Dublin

I didn’t see the RTE Investigations Unit report on how badly treated people were in one unit of the HSE-run home for those with intellectual disabilities, but I read the reviews. The abuse and taunting reminded me of when a few soldiers in the US army taunted captives in Iraq, more than seven years ago. They were filmed doing it and dismissed from the army. The Government could bring in legislation for CCTV to be put in private and public care homes as a deterrent and for undercover people to be sent in when abuses are reported – as RTE did.

Inspections carried out by HIQA or HSE unannounced will never reveal the abuses like that seen on ‘Prime Time’.

Some have asked for forgiveness for the staff who abused and mocked the people in their care.

It is hard to forgive anyone who may not be sorry for their actions. It appears some of the employees held bitter resentment about the work they were doing and unfortunately took it out on the residents.

Maybe they had little training. Was there no thought of suspending or firing them when complaints were made?

It took RTE to invoke a response. Few will speak up when they see a serious wrong, as they tend to be ignored or pushed out.

There are great community hospitals and nursing homes, but there are badly run ones, including private ones. Some 160 complaints were sent to HIQA this year over homes for people with disabilities.

Some 430 were sent to HIQA over nursing homes.

Some people have never heard of HIQA, until it is explained to them that it is to monitor quality of care for the HSE.

The Ombudsman for the Public Service, Peter Tyndall, said concerns can be sent to him as HSE-run homes for the disabled and the elderly fall under his remit and he will investigate.

That’s good to know.

The Dail’s health committee could put new recommendations to HIQA and HSE as inspections don’t seem to prevent abuse.

Name and address with editor

 

We have allowed the care of vulnerable people of all ages in a range of environments to become, to a considerable extent, a minimum wage job with all that implies.

Are we entitled to demand high standards from these workers when we offer them poor pay, little or no career development, little security or status and no respect?

It is long past time for us to face the reality that high-quality, dependable care cannot be provided cheaply.

Maeve Kennedy

Rathgar, Dublin 6

Irish Independent

Shelves

December 15, 2014

15 December 2014 Shelves

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But its getting better. A huge bill for the book shelves

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up rabbit for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Jon Stallworthy was a poet and literary scholar whose biography of Wilfred Owen shaped public understanding of the First World War

Jon Stallworthy: even at prep school he felt a calling to poetry

Jon Stallworthy: even at prep school he felt a calling to poetry Photo: Photoshot

Jon Stallworthy, who has died aged 79, was a poet and scholar whose academic and creative work was marked by an empathetic contemplation of war.

It was fitting that his last collection, published this year, is called War Poet. The book culminates in a lengthy poem, “Skyhorse”, about the White Horse of Uffingham as seen through the past millennium. The sequence is notable for the voices that echo through it – those of Anglo-Saxon poets, Yeats, Hardy and, most audibly, Wilfred Owen.

Stallworthy’s biography of Owen had a profound effect, not only on the war poet’s reputation, but also on public thinking about the Great War. It appeared in 1974, and took Owen’s theme of “the pity of war” to heart. The tone of the book is scholarly and restrained; its achievement is the careful presentation of letters and childhood recollections, particularly of Owen’s brother Harold. Stallworthy took the view that the war had been a fruitless waste of life, and in conversation would dismiss the opposing argument that it had been worth fighting.

None the less, in the Owen biography, plenty is left for the reader’s own judgment, and judge they have. Graham Greene immediately called it “one of the finest biographies of our time”, and the chapter about Owen’s treatment for shellshock at Craiglockhart, where he met Siegfried Sassoon, has had a lasting influence: events documented there would shape Stephen MacDonald’s play Not about Heroes and Pat Barker’s “Regeneration” trilogy.

The author went on to edit Owen’s poems, and those of other war poets, including Henry Reed, whose “The Naming of Parts” remains the best-known English poem to have emerged from the Second World War. Stallworthy regretted that the poems of that war were less known and admired than those of the First, and once admitted to an audience of sixth form students that he felt partly responsible. It is a tribute to his authority that he had a point.

As an academic, first at Cornell University and then at Oxford, he was able to champion a wide range of poetry and poets: with Peter France he translated the work of Alexander Blok and Boris Pasternak, and brought his deep and broad knowledge of 20th-century poetry to the invaluable anthologies. In particular, the Norton Anthology of Poetry (1996) is remarkable for its catholic and progressive outlook.

Stallworthy’s own poetry is distinguished by its quiet mastery of form, its unshowy allusion and its elegiac language. These enabled him to be at once calm and frank in the face of harsh realities. The most studied and admired example of this is not about war, but about his son Jonathan, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. The poem moves from the elation of the birth, with a reference to Ben Jonson’s verses on losing his son – “my best poem” – through the shock of the news – “This was my first death” – to a kind of reconciliation: “fathered by my son, / unkindly in a kind season / by love shattered and set free.”

Jon Howie Stallworthy was born in London on January 18 1935, the son of Sir John Stallworthy, who became professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Oxford; his mother was Margaret Howie. The couple also had twin daughters in 1942. Jon grew up in Oxford, where he was educated at the Dragon School, from which he was nearly expelled for punching a sarcastic French teacher in the face. He then went to Rugby. Both his parents were New Zealanders, and his later poems make clear his keen awareness of the sacrifices made by the Anzac forces, including members of his family.

His own experience of military life came through National Service, for which he was placed with the Royal West African Frontier Force in 1955, before going up to university. He recalled the experience in a poem of 1968, which has the almost light-hearted indifference of hindsight, but also the suggestive music of Owen’s half-rhymes: “When quit /of us, they’ll come to blows, but now all’s quiet / on the Western Frontier.”

Even at prep school, he knew that poetry was his vocation. He read English and French at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was an enthusiastic player of rugby – he narrowly missed a Blue. A significant mentor was Sir Maurice Bowra, the classicist and warden of Wadham. Bowra had fought at Passchendaele in 1917, and Stallworthy was aware of the traumas he had suffered there and at Cambrai. Along with Dame Helen Gardner, Bowra steered Stallworthy towards post-graduate work on Yeats, introducing the young poet to Yeats’s widow Georgiana. At Oxford, Stallworthy won the Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1958, having been runner-up the previous year.

On graduating, Stallworthy joined Oxford University Press in 1959. His work took him to Pakistan. He returned from there in 1962, and in 1970 went to South Africa. There especially, he was to face political difficulties, and The Oxford History of South Africa fell victim to the Justice Ministry’s censorship, which demanded that a chapter be cut for naming Communist activists. As a silent protest, the volume appeared with 52 blank pages.

His skills both as an editor and a manager led him to become deputy head of the Press’s academic division, which required a move back to Oxford. He had already spent 1970-71 there, as a fellow of All Souls, while he researched and wrote his biography of Owen. He produced other biographies, notably of Louis MacNeice, and his subjects became intimate presences to him. He wrote, of the time when he was courting his future wife and pursuing his post-graduate work: “My own life was still centred on Yeats (from Monday to Friday) and Jill (from Friday to Sunday).” Later he would write of Wilfred Owen: “I am not myself, nor are his / hands mine, though once I was at home /with them.”

He left the OUP on his appointment to Cornell University, where he subsequently became a professor and began his association with Norton’s publications. The necessity of those books for schools was a great help with the fees for his own children’s education. His eldest child’s Down’s Syndrome made the travel that had marked his earlier life hard to sustain, and the Stallworthy family settled in Oxford for good in 1986, where he became professor of English Literature and finally acting president of Wolfson College, for which role his managerial skills, a sense of perfectionism and his unfailing courtesy to everyone with whom he worked made him ideal. His enduring good looks were also quite an attribute.

He was moved to anger in 1998, when a crass decision, based on marketing, led to the closure of OUP’s poetry list. (The forthcoming fourth volume of a history of the Press will carry his last word on the subject.) Stallworthy had assembled an enviable list of widely-read poets, including Peter Porter, Fleur Adcock and Anthony Hecht. The poetry press Carcanet was to rescue many of these, and it was there that Stallworthy’s own work appeared, including his own collected poems, gathered in Rounding the Horn (1998).

A late poem of his is a reminder of how his work was enriched by his familiarity with other poets, both living and dead, and of how he should be remembered among them. He wrote towards the end of “Skyhorse”: “I found / myself – as the horse went to ground – / on my back in long grass, surrounded / by voices interwoven with the wind…”

Jon Stallworthy spent his retirement at the village of Old Marston, near Oxford. He married, in 1960, Gillian (Jill) Meredith (née Waldock), who died last year. He is survived by their three children, Jonathan, Nicolas and Pippa.

Jon Stallworthy, born January 18 1935, died November 19 2014

Guardian:

Environmental activists at the UN climate change conference, Cop 20, Lima, 4 December 2014.

Environmental activists at the UN climate change conference, Cop 20, Lima, 4 December 2014. Photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters

I applaud the Guardian for taking the lead in covering the UN’s climate change conference in Lima, and for tackling some of its inherent contradictions. For example, your article Lima climate talks on track for record carbon footprint (theguardian.com, 10 December) highlights the conference of the parties’ (Cop) surprisingly negative environmental impact this year.

Cop 20’s carbon footprint is interesting as a symbol of its one step forward, two steps back modus operandi. Sadly, failure to meet any real consensus at even this superficial level means that Cop 20’s carbon footprint may be its most significant contribution to the Earth’s atmosphere.

There is a danger in following the Guardian’s line of thinking, however, in that focusing too much on individual consumption mistakes means missing the rainforest for the trees. I spoke with a number of climate justice advocates at the people’s summit on climate change in Lima, across town from its more governmental counterpart. When I asked what individual Americans could do to help out, they did not say things like ride a bicycle to work more, or buy solar panels. Their message was consistent: organise, organise, organise.

The environmental crisis is too deep for us to address with anything less than system change. Moreover, it is too easy for a wily market logic to misappropriate efforts to buy greener products. Capitalist consumerism was built on an ethos of dog-eat-dog competition, and the villainisation of collective action. To address climate change at its roots, we need to look past the kind of individualistic thinking that got us in trouble in the first place.
Shawn Van Valkenburgh
Long Beach, CA, USA

However well-intentioned and based on real needs of our planet, Greenpeace’s action very close to the hummingbird at the Nazca lines (Greenpeace apologises over Nazca stunt, December), an extremely fragile archaeological site, was not only absurd but also showed contempt for Peru and the way this country protects its legacy.
Roberto Ugas
Lima, Peru

It is with real dismay that we received the news of proposed elimination of valuable legislation by the European commission to improve air quality and to boost recycling and wiser resource use in Europe and develop a circular economy (EU air quality and recycling goals face axe, 12 December). In their bid to play to the growing tide of Euro-scepticism across Europe, the EU’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker, and, vice-president, Frans Timmermans, fundamentally misjudge the mood and appetite of many in industry and civil society.

There are persuasive arguments that legislation to improve air quality and boost reuse and recycling not only save lives but create jobs and protect increasingly fragile resource supply chains.

We understand that European institutions may be feeling fragile and that reform from within is necessary, but this response from the commission picks on the wrong legislation at the wrong time. It is a short-sighted and miserable decision that risks slowing green growth, ensuring many more premature deaths from respiratory illnesses, and increases resource supply risks for European manufacturers. Please think again.
Ray Georgeson
Chief executive, Resource Association

As stated in last week’s report by the environmental audit committee (8 December), air pollution has become a public health crisis. It is therefore vital that the UK calls for tough new limits on air pollution at EU level. Many of the pollutants that end up in the air we breathe originate from the continent. We need stricter, clearer national limits in order for all European governments to take coordinated action that will curb pollution and clean up Europe’s air.

The UK must use its influence to strengthen EU air quality targets, not weaken them, so that we can tackle the sources of pollution both at home and abroad.
Catherine Bearder MEP (Liberal Democrat), Seb Dance MEP (Labour), Julie Girling MEP (Conservative)

European commission plans to scrap programmes to clean up our air and tackle waste are deeply disturbing.

Protecting the health of its citizens and safeguarding our precious resources should be at the heart of EU policy-making. These are powerful economic moves, as well as environmental and social ones. Sacrificing these aims to benefit a few powerful, unenlightened business interests would be shameful.

Friends of the Earth has given strong support to the EU in the past because of the critical role European legislation has played in defending our planet and well-being. But that could change if the EU stops championing the environment and views its protection as a barrier to economic development.
Andy Atkins
Executive director, Friends of the Earth

It’s no wonder so many people are disillusioned with politics (Dirty secrets: the UK hides its role, 13 December). This year the home affairs select committee said the intelligence and security committee was not fit for purpose. The committee called for a radical reform of the oversight of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ (we would add the NSA too), arguing that the system is so ineffective it is undermining the credibility of the intelligence agencies and parliament itself. And yet it is the ISC which replaced Peter Gibson, who had started to ask serious questions about the behaviour of the intelligence services.

Malcolm Rifkind, who chairs the ISC, cannot by any figment of the imagination be deemed independent, nor is his committee. Why is this discredited committee allowed anywhere near an investigation into the spy agencies and torture? Nick Clegg says he wants to know the truth about torture. What is desperately needed is the appointment of a respected and credible panel of independent people to seriously investigate what GCHQ has been up to while hiding behind the NSA cloak of subterfuge. And by the way, another radome (“golfball”) is planned at the huge US base at NSA/NRO Menwith Hill. The ISC says it knows everything that goes on there. More deceit and manipulation of the truth.
Lindis Percy
Joint coordinator, Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB)

• The report on CIA torture makes a number of references to doctors advising personnel. Given that some of the “interrogations” read more like sadist’s wish-fulfilment, these doctors were actually colluding in the brutal treatment and, in the case of Gul Rahman, killing of prisoners. What did they themselves think they were doing? Are they still practising medicine somewhere?
Joseph Oldaker
Nuneaton, Warwickshire

 

Glass head full of pills

‘Big Pharma spends millions assuring us we are all very sick and in need of constant drugging’ – Naomi Wallace. Photograph: Prisma Bildagentur AG/Alamy

Fay Schopen (Opinion, 12 December) cheerleads what she considers the American ease of pill-popping. Even a casual glance at the medicating patterns in my country reveal that the poor, and people of colour, especially children, are those that are prescribed the most pills. And this is not because they have disorders. Working-class kids who “talk back” or resist the hopelessness of a brutal capitalism that has disenfranchised them are considered psychotic. Social disorder is now being treated as a psychiatric disorder. And the drug companies are making billions.

While each year drug companies launch new mental disorders with the kind of fearmongering that once belonged only to weapons manufacturers, what we need are studied sceptics who can talk back to Big Pharma.

In the meantime: about to lose your job? Might find it upsetting if you lose your home? Take a pill. You can get an antidepressant prescription in 13 minutes in most doctor’s offices in the US. Big Pharma spends millions assuring us we are all very sick and in need of constant drugging. I expect that soon there will be a disease called Ferguson disorder. When young black men are heartbroken and angry at their lack of civil freedoms, instead of taking to the streets, they can sit back and take a pill.
Naomi Wallace
(Playwright, screenwriter), Otterburn, North Yorkshire

As a 74-year-old who doesn’t (currently) have to take any medication and who, apart from a few courses of antibiotics never has, I count myself fortunate and in no way morally, or any other way, superior to those who do. Fay Schopen is right, it is irrational and denigrating to sneer at anyone needing medication for chronic illness.

One part of her article worried me, however: the suggestion that Tamoxifen was not an option for the treatment of her mother in the 1980s. Tamoxifen has been prescribed since the 1970s and only if the cancer was oestrogen insensitive should it not have been the first-line drug treatment.

Americans may rattle, but in Japan, where doctors not only prescribe but dispense, they rattle louder.
Ian Skidmore
Welwyn, Hertfordshire

Congratulations to Alan Rusbridger on his time as editor and I wish him well in his new role (Report, 11 December). I can’t think of a better place to commend his work than in the letters page of Britain’s finest newspaper, which he has steered through difficult times. I still look forward to reading the paper as much today as I did in 1980.
Gary Woolley
Cambridge

• After his £300k donation to Ukip (Report, 13 December), will Richard Desmond stop broadcasting images of breasts on his Red Hot TV channel in deference to Nigel Farage’s embarrassment at them being used openly in Claridges for the purpose they are intended?
Eric Goodyer
Berwick

• Surely the Roger Bird story (Letters, 10 December) was nominative determinism.
John Petrie
Leeds

'Weather Bomb' hits Northern Ireland
A horse on Divis Mountain caught in the ‘weather bomb’ that hit Northern Ireland on 10 December 2014. Photograph: Joe Lord/Corbis

During the 2003 heatwave, temperatures in southern Britain soared into the upper 30s centigrade. Curiously, media reporting suddenly switched to the old fahrenheit scale. Why? The answer was ludicrously simple. The temperature was about to hit a record 100F, which reporters of the day seemed to think much more newsworthy than a “balmy” 37.8C. Last week we experienced another meteorological event that engendered hysteria in the media. So it was that the term “weather bomb” (technically explosive cyclogenesis) entered our psyche (Report, 11 December). With the weather bomb came high winds and waves, the latter predicted, in the BBC radio report I caught, to reach 40 feet. That’s right, 40 feet – we’re back with imperial measurements – 12.2-metre waves don’t sound large enough to generate the necessary public hysteria.

So might our media be missing a few tricks when “bigging up” meteorological events? Simply changing centigrade to fahrenheit overlooks the Kelvin scale: using this they could report perfectly normal average summer temperatures in the UK of nearly 290K. For the weather bomb, winds were predicted up to 80mph; in kilometres per hour, that would be a scary 130kph. And why not millimetres for waves? The idea of 12,200mm waves will definitely get coastal dwellers heading for the hills.
Professor Richard Evershed
University of Bristol

• Up here in north Donegal, after two days of explosive cyclogenesis – force 10 winds, driving sleet, coastal waves like geysers spraying the land with salt scum – followed by snow, we don’t have any bugs, bees, flowering plants or even green shoots. We do have resilient survivors, wee birds, corvids, rodents, little horned sheep and local people who are well used to the conditions. It’s winter and it’s wonderful.
Maureen Surgente
Fanad, Donegal, Ireland

 

Independent:

Your downbeat front-page article is entitled, “New era of cheap oil ‘will destroy green revolution” (13 December). On the contrary, the green revolution is an unstoppable process. Here are two business reasons why.

The barrier to entry for new business people is low compared to starting a fossil-fuel energy business. It is so low that a one-man band could get one off the ground, installing solar panels or electric car charging points for example. No micro-business could decide to build a coal power station.

Second, long-term business security. Who, starting life as a new business person, in their right mind, would go for selling risky, limited fossil-fuel energy over predictable, unlimited renewable energy?

The fact is, there is an incredible amount of money to be made in renewables. The end of fossil-fuelled energy is a problem for the old generation of business owners.

A better title would have been “New era of cheap oil will temporarily slow the green revolution”.

Filipe McManus

Martlesham Heath, Suffolk

 

The cost of energy – fossil or renewable – is, currently, a function of the cost of production, distribution, sale and consumer demand. However, this does not reflect the full economic cost of energy.

Climate change is being driven by rising carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. The costs from climate change come in several forms: first, from damage to buildings and infrastructure from more powerful and more frequent freak weather events; second, injury and loss of life in those events; third, lost economic production as a result of these two factors; fourth and finally, measures taken to ameliorate freak weather events, such as enhanced flood defences.

If those costs were reflected in the cost of energy, then fossil fuels would not be as cheap as they appear to be, and the economic case for renewable energy would be strong.

Barry Richards

Cardiff

 

The threat to progress on climate change as the price of oil falls could be partially offset by requiring consumers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through carbon capture and storage technology, paid for by the consumers.

In the case of aviation, which plays a vital role in the modern world, research into alternative fuels (such as liquified methane or liquid hydrogen) and development of tanks to contain them and engines to burn them could be paid for by levies on the price of passenger tickets and freight costs.

Part of the difficulty with finding out the amount of carbon dioxide released by energy production is that it is a colourless, odourless gas, undetectable by human senses. If it were a pungent green gas or an oily purple liquid, no doubt capture technologies would have been introduced long ago.

Julien Evans

Chesham, Buckinghamshire

 

Labour ignores new Scottish democracy

In electing Jim Murphy MP as its leader, Scottish Labour proves it has learned nothing from the left-wing, grassroots movements that propelled the independence vote in Scotland from 26 per cent to 45 per cent in just two years.

Murphy, a long-time Blair protégé, is the epitome of what SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon calls a “red Tory”. His mantra throughout the Scottish Labour leadership contest was that, like any “one nation” Tory, he wanted to represent “the poor and the prosperous”.

A supporter of the invasion of Iraq, Murphy is in favour of nuclear weapons, including the moral and economic obscenity of replacing Trident.

Misguided Labour Party members might consider Murphy “electable” by the old rules of media-obsessed, spin-doctored politics, but, following the carnival of democracy that was the pro-independence referendum campaign, Scotland is a nation changed utterly.

Mark Brown

Glasgow

 

Chapter 2 paragraph 20 of the Smith Commission report refers to “the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine the form of government best suited to their needs, as expressed in the referendum on 18 September 2014”. How was this “expressed” in a referendum where the question was “Should Scotland be an independent country?” and the answer was “No”?

Adam More

Edinburgh

 

When the Scots can set themselves lower income tax and higher welfare payments, will the rest of us have to make up the difference – and suffer higher income tax and lower welfare payments as a result? This bribe to the Scots can only cause resentment in the rest of the UK, particularly in the less affluent regions.

Marilyn Mason

Kingston upon Thames Surrey

 

No freebies for public servants

Janet Street-Porter criticises the Financial Conduct Authority for spending public money on a Christmas party (13 December).

I have worked for the public sector since I was 18 years old, except for four years working for a voluntary organisation. I have never been offered or attended a Christmas celebration funded by anyone except myself.

I started as a student nurse, worked as a nurse and then a health visitor for my first 16 years. Then I worked for a charity and a council for the last 15 years. My colleagues and I have never had any extra benefit and none of us has expected it. What we have done is worked Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. I am now a middle manager in the council and we arrange a meal for all staff which they pay for themselves.

So I do not recognise the elite group of public sector staff you refer to, but I can assure you they are in the minority. Please can you represent the majority of public sector staff in the future, as we are having a hard enough time with the views of the public?

Julia Holley

Bath

 

James Watson’s comments on race

Dr John Cameron (letter, 11 December) suggests that Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe “did for” James Watson, in an act of betrayal against her former teacher, by reporting his comments on race and intelligence.

It is unnecessary and vicious to name her in this way, and Dr Cameron has no way of knowing the details of the interview. Miss Hunt-Grubbe is a professional and will not defend herself against this slur. I, an acquaintance of hers, have no such compunction.

She remains mortified that she was unable to stop James Watson persisting in such comments, but it is not part of a journalist’s professional duty only to report what one likes, no matter on whom. Nor, for that matter, can a scientist only record the observations that please them. If he didn’t want his words reported, he shouldn’t have said them to a journalist on the record.

Alasdair Matthews

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

 

Britain can uphold human rights

Graham Bog takes a swipe at “the cacophony of Tory cries for our withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights” (letter, 12 December). Why doesn’t he have a go at Australia, Canada and New Zealand while he’s at it? None of them is a full signatory to the ECHR but each has a robust legal system.

We have a Supreme Court in the UK. Mr Bog needs  to explain why he doesn’t trust it.

D Stewart

London N2

 

Stop making Ed Miliband look weird

Your leading article of 12 December tells us that “Miliband is right to point out the Coalition’s failures on borrowing. But will the public buy his alternative plan?” If your paper continues to publish photos like the one on page 18 of the same issue, which makes him look very weird, it seems unlikely that they will.

I have met Ed Miliband on a number of occasions and I can assure your readers that he is an intelligent and nice-looking man. Why would a paper that is “independent” wish to keep presenting him in the most unflattering way. It is quite easy to take a foolish-looking photo of anyone, so why pick on Ed? I haven’t noticed you publishing photos of Cameron looking absurd.

Jill Osman

Hebden Bridge  West Yorkshire

 

Harassment at abortion clinics

I was disappointed to read the three leading letters on Thursday dismissing the idea of buffer zones around abortion clinics. If a patient feels harassed and intimidated by the images held up by the protesters then surely it is harassment.

How would your correspondents feel if on entering a hospital for a legal procedure they had to walk past images of bloody scalpels, chests cut open, cancers being removed? No medical procedure looks pleasant, and if patients want to see pictures of what they are about to undergo, they will find them for themselves.

Angela Elliott

Hundleby, Lincolnshire

Times:

Sir, In his letter (Dec 12) about public or private provision in the NHS, Mr CNA Williams criticises David Aaronovitch (Opinion, Dec 11) for failing to recognise the difference between these two organisational systems. In effect the letter advocates a very old-fashioned socialist doctrine that “public is good and private bad”. Perhaps the writer inadvertently demolishes their own argument by failing to mention either the quality of outcomes or cost-effectiveness. He also reiterates the frequently expressed left-wing view that the making of profit must be bad. I should have thought that the idea that the state should do nearly everything for the “benefit of all” had been tested to destruction in various countries.

Surely most people wish to have the best and most timely diagnosis and treatment, irrespective of the involvement of public and private sectors. Without some element of competition on services, there cannot be a strong drive for innovation and improvement. The global pharmaceutical industry has over the past 50 years or so provided numerous improved treatments geared to the needs of patients. Without making some profits, such vital developments would not have been financed. State-controlled medical research and development could not have matched this. The need to be financially viable is a great spur to improvement and better service. A steady flow of funds from the taxpayer is not always as reliable a stimulant and can lead to provider interests taking precedence over those of service users.
John S Burton
Cheltenham, Glos

Sir, Your correspondentdisplays Orwellian logic. If one accepts his argument, a first-class private department store providing quality goods to its customers for profit is inferior to a second-class state store (of a kind once familiar behind the Iron Curtain) providing the public with shoddy goods. The truth is that a private enterprise can only go on making a profit if it pleases not only its shareholders but its customers — the public — and it can only do this by providing quality goods or services. Public monopoly services by contrast often exist primarily to serve the interests of their staff.
Robert Keys
Danbury, Essex

Sir, Of course just profiteering is “bad” (letter, Dec 12). But worse is accepting public ownership without fiscal restraint — otherwise raising taxes simply to pay doctors and nurses wages equivalent to those of footballers would qualify in Williams’s simplistic dichotomy as a laudable “public investment”. Privatisation was partly conceived to stop trade union leaders such as Arthur Scargill and Mick McGahey from holding the Treasury to ransom.
Phillip Hodson
Tetbury, Glos

Sir, “Profit”, whether public or private, is the recognised reward for taking risk, which all investment and decision-making involves. Without profit, there would be no incentive for entrepreneurs to take risk and translate creative ideas into economic growth. To suggest that public investment is inherently good simply because it is “public”, and that private profit is inherently bad because it is “private”, is to indulge in the outdated language of class war and pretend that we live in an altruistic wonderland.
Bernard Kingston
Biddenden, Kent

Sir, Professor Hicks, in his letter (Dec 5) commenting on our research findings, suggests that the skeleton found in Leicester is not that of Richard III. He states that “there are lots of candidates” yet seems unable to specify one who ticks all the boxes (buried in the choir of Greyfrairs, battle injuries, aged mid-30s, same mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), scoliosis, etc). He overlooks the fact that the publication presents a detailed analysis of Richard’s maternal-line relatives across seven generations in order to account for others sharing the same mtDNA type through known relation — and that this mtDNA type is exceedingly rare and therefore highly unlikely to have shown a match by chance.

Hicks also claims that we “presumed the bones to be those of Richard and sought only supporting evidence”. A cursory reading of the paper and an examination of our statistical analyses makes it abundantly clear that the opposite is true. We considered all relevant lines of evidence and made every effort to weight the analysis against the remains being those of Richard III, yet still produce a highly conservative probability of 99.9994 per cent in favour. Lastly, Hicks refers to “wild accusations of bastardy”. Nowhere do we make any such accusations.
T King
, University of Leicester
MG Thomas
, UCL
K Schürer
, University of Leicester

Sir, It was disappointing to read Sir Peter Lampl’s remarks in your report (“Fifth of pupils failed primary tests”, Dec 12). Comments such as “narrowing the gap” from the head of the prestigious Sutton Trust tend only to trivialise the issue of measurement of effective learning.

This faux-measurement term and its derogatory companion, “floor standards”, serve only to contribute to the socially divisive labelling of certain pupils as a deficit mass. It increases, rather than decreases, the “learnt helplessness” and disempowerment of the teaching profession who, deprived of the right to treat pupils as individuals, resort to coaching to appease external inspectors through short-term increases in test scores.
Professor Bill Boyle

(Former chairman of educational assessment, University of Manchester) Cotebrook, Cheshire

Sir, I see that American TV has banned the codpiece (report, Dec 12). I have often thought that the only thing left to re-introduce in male fashion is the codpiece. Having turned 60, I look back and have enjoyed wearing turn-ups, bell-bottoms, shorts, skinny jeans, high crotch, low crotch — and had the discomfort of looking at low waistbands showing off underwear. I expect a codpiece would be quite comfortable. If it’s banned from American TV screens, does that mean it will never be re-adopted?
Richard Jeffs

London NW1

Sir, As a 19-year old girl in the Sixties working for a theatrical costumier, one of my duties was to make and decorate codpieces. On one occasion I was asked to fit one, in order to position it correctly on to tights that the actor was wearing. Fortunately my hand was steady. The actor was Charlton Heston.
Tricia Lewin

Newbury, Berkshire

Sir, The problem in providing a lavatory (Dec 12, and letter, Dec 13) in the Chantry of St Mary the Virgin in Wakefield lies in its being built on a small island in the middle of the River Calder as a part of the medieval bridge. Access to mains drainage is out of the question. We thought to have resolved the problem by installing a composting loo, but this is reliant on a mechanism that has broken down. Last week we had a delightful evening of Christmas music provided in part by 11 junior school girls who came to rehearse 90 minutes before the start time. It was a huge relief to find that the proprietor of a business at the end of the bridge was prepared to offer his staff lavatory. At 6.30pm we saw a crocodile of our performers walking purposefully along the bridge in high wind and rain to the welcome facility. The concert was good too.
Kate Taylor

Chairwoman, the Friends of Wakefield Chantry Chapel

Sir, There is a cheaper and better way of solving this problem. Shorter services.
The Very Rev Trevor Beeson

Dean Emeritus of Winchester
Romsey, Hampshire

Telegraph:

What makes a good education; aggressive dogs; hopes for a naval base in Bahrain; America in uproar; Santa vs Father Christmas; and boys will be girls

Cadets at an open day

Cadets at an army open day Photo: Jan Knapik

SIR – The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan’s belief that ex-soldiers can help school children learn “character” and “determination” is woefully misguided. Children develop according to a huge variety of influences, such as religious groups, peers, parents, teachers, youth clubs and sporting activities.

Those living in poor housing with unemployed parents face a lot of challenges in simply keeping safe, eating enough and getting to school ready to try to learn. Sending in the Army to deal with entrenched, structural disadvantages is at best a token gimmick and at worst an insult to Army veterans, who are themselves being neglected by the Government after having served their country.

Steven Walker
Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

SIR – My school is one of the founding members of Round Square – a network of schools inspired by the ideals of the educationalist Kurt Hahn, who was involved in the creation of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. This organisation has been focused on formation of character for more than 50 years, but, while we have tremendous respect for the military, we run no Combined Cadet Force course and do not require help from ex-soldiers.

Students form a well-rounded character when their school’s ethos promotes charitable service, adventure, care for the environment, an international perspective, democracy and leadership.

The problems the Government wishes to tackle are born of years of mismanagement. A generation of teachers has been raised in fear of league table positions, exam results and paperwork. Children are complex and infinitely capable and they need to be nurtured so that they can become resilient, balanced, happy contributors to society. We do not need to buy in a soldier to achieve this; we just need to remember that education is not all about A*s.

Corydon Lowde
Headmaster, Box Hill School Mickleham, Surrey

SIR – First Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, attacked public schools for not doing enough to help state schools, and threatened to remove their charitable status. Now he is agreeing with Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, that schools need to instil more “grit” in children.

Mr Hunt would do well to consider that many pupils attend private schools through the great sacrifices and “grit” of their parents. While a desire to help the state sector is admirable, this is not what they are paying the schools to do.

Amanda Wood
Brightwell Baldwin, Oxfordshire

SIR – Once again Ofsted has released a damning report on the quality of leadership and education in many of our secondary schools.

Since Ofsted was set up more than 20 years ago with the remit to improve the quality of the education given to our children, this report in fact reflects its own dismal failure to deliver.

Brian Farmer
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – The latest Ofsted report states that thousands of bright pupils are regressing in secondary schools because of “issues in the teaching of the most able pupils” and “acceptance” of indiscipline.

This confirms what many of us involved in education during the Seventies thought might happen. With the closure of grammar schools, in many industrial regions where a lot of families had no tradition of entering higher education, the brightest would join the rest and receive a secondary modern education.

The consequence has been that fewer students from the state system in such regions end up studying rigorous academic subjects at Russell Group universities.

Dr Malcolm Greenhalgh
Lowton, Lancashire

Happy dogs are not aggressive dogs

SIR – Dr Bruce Fogle attempts to soften the reality that a dog, out of its owner’s control, attacked a horse. If the target of the dog’s attack had been a child playing with a ball, would that have been acceptable dog behaviour?

As an expert in animal behaviour, I know that contented dogs – which are exercised, mentally as well as physically, trained and properly socialised – are not naturally aggressive.

Dr David Sands

Chorley, Lancashire

SIR – Dr Fogle’s reasoning is more out of control than Elena Butterfield’s Staffordshire terrier if he really does not understand why she fell foul of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Any dog, if large enough, can be dangerous. Staffies are lovely, affectionate dogs, but, in common with other bull breeds, they are not normally the brightest, and some can be difficult to train. They have an enormously high power-to-weight ratio, and have been bred for tenacity. They certainly should not be allowed to run loose in a public place out of range of their owner’s voice.

John Duff
Braemar, Aberdeenshire

SIR – Dr Fogle advises riders to turn their horses to face an “excited” dog and chase it. I am always wary when I meet loose dogs while out riding. A dog persistently snapping around a horse’s heels can very quickly lead to the horse bucking or bolting, potentially with tragic consequences.

When walking a dog in a public place the onus is on the owner to keep a lookout for prospective hazards and take action to prevent them turning into dangerous situations.

Rev Sandra Sykes
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – We live overlooking a stretch of the river Tweed, where an incident occurred in the 18th century which resulted in a landmark court ruling.

The Earl of Home, when fishing for salmon, would be accompanied by his Newfoundland dog, which could apparently catch 20 fish in a single morning. The neighbouring landowner was so incensed that he took the dog to court for illegally depleting salmon stocks.

The Scottish Court of Sessions was convened to hear the case of “The Earl of Tankerville versus a Dog, the property of the Earl of Home”. Judgment was given in favour of the dog, it being decided that it had not acted through malicious criminal intent but by natural instinct.

Canon Alan Hughes
Wark, Northumberland

Sinking hopes of a naval base in Bahrain

SIR – The proposed naval base in Bahrain will be a costly exercise in a time of financial constraint.

One of the prime justifications for the two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers was the ability to provide offensive air support globally, without having to rely on land bases that might be subject to restrictions by host nations. We are now told that a maritime base in Bahrain is required to support these and other Royal Navy ships operating in the Gulf, thus negating the original justification of the aircraft carriers.

If the past 25 years of conflict in the Middle East is a precedent, it is difficult to justify expensive naval bases in the area. A cheaper airbase could be easily justified.

Lt Col Paul d’Apice (retd)
Dawlish, Devon

SIR – In the Seventies, Sir Anthony Eden said to me: “I hope the British people will come to realise that I made the right decision to invade Suez.”

Whether right or wrong, it now seems we will again have a presence to the east of Suez, which Harold Wilson withdrew in 1968, so Sir Anthony may yet be proved correct.

The difference between then and now is that today we seek cooperation, not confrontation, with the Middle East.

Vin Harrop
Billericay, Essex

Justifying torture

SIR – Following the publication of the report on interrogation by the CIA, the philosophical problem of means and ends has had a good airing, with many talking about “crimes” and the CIA talking about “results”.

I would be very interested to know the extent of the role played by the British Government in these affairs.

Dr William Bedford
Purton Stoke, Wiltshire

SIR – We now have another contender for most obscene political euphemism, to compete with old favourites such as “collateral damage” and “extraordinary rendition” – “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Nigel Henson
Winkfield, Ascot

Peaceful protest

SIR – America takes pride in allowing its citizens the right to assemble and protest peacefully.

Those who turned to violence recently, when protesting against grand jury decisions in relation to lethal force by some police officers, instantly devalued their own message.

Jeff Swanson
Everett, Washington, United States

Branded abuse

SIR – Is Russell Brand hard of hearing? Whatever he was asked on this week’s Question Time, he seemed to hear: “Would you like to shout general abuse at Nigel Farage, mate?”

Martin Burgess
Beckenham, Kent

Butterfly comeback

SIR – I can confirm the “return of the long-lost butterflies”.

We saw Clouded Yellow in the sand dunes at Gwithian, Cornwall, on November 13. Back in Wiltshire we had a Brimstone fly through the garden early in November, and about six Red Admirals feeding on fermenting grapes until the end of the month. They left because the Blackbirds and Blackcaps have cleared the grapes.

Stephen Lawrence
Bratton, Wiltshire

Paddington Scare

SIR – I am glad your film critic enjoyed Paddington and came out of the cinema laughing.

My two grandchildren, aged seven and five years, did not – they were frightened by the “nasty lady” (Nicole Kidman). Another family had to take their seven-year-old son out of the cinema.

Is Paddington, which I took to be a children’s film, in fact a film for middle-aged men?

Sue Hare
Billericay, Essex

Political jungle

SIR – A new reality television show is about to be launched. In I’m a Conservative… Get Me Out of Here!, contestants are held in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and required to undertake unpalatable tasks, such as swallowing niggling criticism from Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander. The show is scheduled to run until May 2015.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

Boys will be girls

SIR – Pauline Churcher is not the only one to have had a case of mistaken identity. My husband Clive, on passing his 11-plus exam, received a letter that read: “ We have pleasure in confirming a place for Olive at the Grammar School. She must report with the requisite uniform of navy blue blazer and badge, navy blue gym slip and stockings, white blouse, navy blue knickers and a hockey stick”.

I wonder what the school would now make of Olive’s pot belly and bald head.

Rev Margaret Hadfield
Lutterworth, Leicestershire

Santa is more authentic than our Father Christmas

Photo: Alamy

SIR – Annie Pierce refers to Santa as an “American usurper”.

I would argue that Santa has the edge on Father Christmas. The latter has no connection with Christianity; the former was once the genuine Christian St Nicholas.

Rev Philip Foster
Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire

SIR – This year our local primary school nativity play was called A Midwife Crisis. The familiar nativity story received a modern twist, with a midwife abandoning her satnav’s advice and following a star to the baby Jesus. As she cradled him in her arms, she said: “It seems I need Jesus more than He needs me.”

This performance, although not traditional, was both poignant and humbling.

Ruth Beavington
Ryarsh, Kent

SIR – One festive offering I always await with dread is the annual swipe at the Christmas newsletter that many of us enclose with our Christmas cards.

Not all of us spend our year locked into social media sites, nor do we all have friends and family in close proximity. We enjoy hearing the news from afar and feel a summary of our own activities keeps the channels open with people whom we value but see rarely.

I say bring on the dog’s health, the grandchildren’s activities, the holidays and hobbies – and humbug to the cynics.

Barry Carter
Oxford

Irish Times:

‘Hooded men’, torture and human rights

Sir, – Many Irish observers may not be aware that, in his infamous “torture memo” of August 1st, 2002, Jay Bybee, assistant attorney general in the administration of US president George W Bush, cited the case of Ireland vs the UK before the European Commission and subsequently the European Court of Human Rights in the 1970s as the principal example under international law to justify his contention that the use of sensory deprivation techniques (which dominate the US Senate report on US interrogation abuses since 9/11) did not amount to “torture”.

The governments of Jack Lynch and Liam Cosgrave in the early 1970s took the most important intergovernmental case on human rights in modern times against the UK government, citing hundreds of instances of inhuman treatment and torture against detainees in Northern Ireland and specifically alleging torture in the use of five “sensory deprivation” techniques (prolonged wall standing, hooding, subjection to noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and drink) against a number of men.

The case was pursued over several years before the European Commission on Human Rights in Strasbourg and elsewhere with admirable “tripartisanship” and without the slightest jingoism between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour leaders in government, an example of the Irish State at its best. The evidence was compiled from hundreds of sources in Northern Ireland, the most prominent being Fr Denis Faul, by officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (I was one at the time). Several Irish counsel, junior and senior (Mr Justice Murray of the Supreme Court is the last active practitioner from that team) led by attorneys general Condon and Costello, confronted the most formidable names of the English Bar, including several of their attorneys general. Mr Lynch and Mr Cosgrave and their ministers and attorneys general resisted relentless pressure from their British opposite numbers, up to and including during the Sunningdale Conference, to drop the case. In 1976 the European Commission for Human Rights found that the use of the five techniques amounted to torture.

The European Court of Human Rights, the superior instance, changed that decision in 1978, grotesquely finding that the use of the five techniques “used in combination for a long period fall into the category of inhuman treatment, but not torture”. This was the decision relied upon by Mr Bybee in 2002 to justify many of the horrors now disclosed by the US Senate.

The initiative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charles Flanagan to try to have this case reopened in Strasbourg is important obviously for the survivors among the “hooded men” and for the families of all of them. It is also crucial for the world, including for the UK, whose prime minister has justly condemned the disclosures in the US Senate report. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL LILLIS,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – The decision to proceed with a minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy for alcohol in Northern Ireland reflects the increasing conviction of policymakers of the effectiveness of price in the fight against alcohol harm. The challenge to Scotland’s bid to introduce an MUP of 50 pence remains tied up in the European courts, but there is confidence that this challenge by the drinks industry will be overcome.

The consequences of alcohol harm in Ireland are visible to many and catastrophic. The death rate from liver cirrhosis has doubled in both men and women in Ireland in the last 20 years, reflecting the doubling of per capita intake of Ireland in Ireland in the last 50 years. MUP, which establishes a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold, has proven to have had significant positive and rapid benefits on health and crime in Canada, where MUP has already been introduced. The Northern Irish Department of Health estimates that introduction of MUP there could save 63 lives a year; in the Republic the figure for lives saved would be much higher.

Those who argue against MUP suggest that moderate drinkers would be penalised. This is quite simply not the case. MUP will in fact have the greatest impact on harmful and hazardous drinkers. A recent UK study of patients with liver disease demonstrated that the impact of a minimum unit price of 50 pence per unit on spending on alcohol would be 200 times higher for patients with liver disease who were drinking at harmful levels than for low-risk drinkers. If we take a MUP price of 60 cent in the Republic of Ireland, this would not change the price anyone pays for a drink in a pub or restaurant, as these, for the most part, already sell at well above that MUP. A bottle of wine costing €8 at present, or a 700ml bottle of spirits at €14, would still cost the same. What would change is the price of the cheapest and strongest wine, cider and beer, mainly or completely in the supermarket and off-license sector. There is also strong public support for MUP in the Republic of Ireland. In a survey from 2012, almost 58 per cent of respondents were in favour of establishment of a floor price below which alcohol could not be sold. In summary, there is overwhelming evidence for the benefits and targeting of a MUP for alcohol, there is a high level of public support, and now we see a commitment to and steps to implement it in Northern Ireland. The time is now right for turning off the tap on strong cheap alcohol in the Republic of Ireland. – Yours, etc,

Prof FRANK MURRAY,

President,

Royal College of Physicians

of Ireland,

Frederick House,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The OECD has just released the 2014 version of its annual Health at a Glance document. It states that the average Irish doctor only provided 1,224 clinical consultations annually. This equates to between five and six consultations daily, clearly not reflecting reality. That data comes from the 2010 National Quarterly Household Health Survey performed by the Central Statistics Office.

In 2013 we published in the Irish Medical Journal the results of an audit of the practice records of 20,700 adult patients spread over the country and found that the average patient attends their GP 5.2 times a year.

This is slightly less than the UK consultation rate. It equates to each wholetime equivalent GP providing 33 consultations a day or a sum total of over 460,000 consultations in general practice per week. And that figure does not include any consultations with hospital doctors.

The problem with the 2010 CSO survey is that it demands recollection of the number of times during the past 12 months a person had consulted a general practitioner or had visited a hospital specialist as an outpatient, which is subject to a massive degradation of recollection.

Since 2006 most European countries have used four-week recollection in their national health surveys but our national surveys are based on 12-month recollection, a significant difference which probably explains the serious discrepancy.

We would implore the health planners to examine the data they collect, the method of collection and the potential outcomes of misrepresenting the true nature and productivity of both general practice and hospital activity, so that we can plan accurate delivery of care, before all our doctors have left these shores. – Yours, etc,

Dr WILLIAM BEHAN,

Walkinstown,

Dublin 12;

Dr DAVID MOLONY,

Mallow,

Sir, – The use of online technology to ease queues at the Garda National Immigration Bureau on Dublin’s Burgh Quay will be welcomed by those forced to stand in line and hard-pressed staff at the country’s busiest public office (“Immigration service to introduce online appointment system for visas in 2015”, December 16th).

While the use of online appointments for re-entry visas may help ease the immediate issue, it will do little to address the wider ones which created the backlog. The policy of attempting to funnel 130,000 people a year through a single office is not working. At the Immigrant Council of Ireland we have been campaigning for greater use of new technology, more Garda offices and reforms similar to those which eased backlogs at the passport office. In the new year we will also continue to seek the introduction of a modern, clear and efficient immigration system.

Red tape must be replaced with easy to understand rules and guidelines, as well as an independent appeals mechanism for those who want visa decisions reviewed. The fight for immigration reform has been going on now for well over a decade; it is time for our politicians to take a leaf from US president Barack Obama’s book and show leadership on this important issue in 2015. – Yours, etc,

DENISE CHARLTON,

Chief Executive,

Immigrant Council

of Ireland,

Andrew Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – The Defence Forces have a total of 442 soldiers serving overseas in 14 different missions with the UN, EU, OSCE and Nato. This amounts to a scattergun approach and is exposing Irish soldiers to undue risks in some inappropriate missions.

Missions such as the Nato force in Afghanistan are arguably making war not peace, and the dangers to Irish soldiers in Kabul will be significantly increased with the withdrawal of most other foreign troops.

Ireland should focus on peacekeeping in serious conflicts such as the Congo and Darfur in which there is an urgent need for high-quality UN peacekeepers, and avoid scattering our soldiers in small packets around the globe.

The vast majority of the Irish people want Ireland to pursue a policy of positive neutrality, that includes sending Irish soldiers to promote international peace and sustainable development, and do not support the resource wars being pursued by the US and NATO, under the guise of humanitarian intervention. Our Irish values are not Nato’s values. The peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, have not enjoyed peace, or prosperity or humanitarian results from the wars inflicted on them.

Minister for Defence Simon Coveney stated in the Dáil on November 13th that he is reviewing the presence of seven Irish soldiers serving in Afghanistan with Nato. It is vital that these soldiers should not be replaced when their mission ends on December 31st. They should never have been in Afghanistan supporting foreign military occupation. It is vital to ensure that our soldiers are only exposed to justifiable risks and only on genuine UN peace missions. – Yours, etc,

EDWARD HORGAN,

Castletroy,

Limerick.

Sir, – What seems to be overlooked in the discussion on the commemoration of 1916 is the fact that the choice of two lines of advance for this nation that faced us then still remained in the years that followed – the line of constitutional nationalism or the line of force of arms. A tiny minority of a minority led the nation in an armed campaign in 1916 but we, as a people, chose and continue to choose constitutional nationalism, voting in large numbers for the Treaty when it was offered.

It is one thing to acknowledge those who sacrificed their lives for their beliefs, as well as sadly remembering the tragic deaths of those 250 innocent civilians, including 40 children, but another to tell the families of the 170,000 of the 180,000 Irish Volunteers, who went with Redmond in his fight for Home Rule, that their relatives were wrong.

Two thousand “came out” for the Rising but 200,000 followed the call from the Irish Parliamentary Party to fight for Home Rule in the first World War. We hear a lot about the relatives of those who took part in the Rising but very little on the relatives of those who followed the constitutional path. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK D GOGGIN,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – Thinking back to my youth, I don’t recall there being many books by Irish authors set in Ireland whose intended audience were Irish children. And while Billy Bunter and the Famous Five were all well and good, and in fairness I enjoyed them immensely and loved them dearly, I still remember the sense of disconnection I felt while reading them: this wasn’t my world; these weren’t the landscapes I knew, the speech patterns I was familiar with, or the values of the people around me. Irish characters, when they occurred, seemed intended largely for light relief.

Looking at the O’Brien Press website, I see things have changed dramatically for the better. They have a plethora of books for children by Irish authors, featuring Irish characters, taking place in Ireland.

Will they be able to continue to provide quality Irish fiction aimed at Irish children minus the Arts Council grant? I don’t know; but given the small size of the Irish market it is difficult to see how.

Which is why I think the grant should be restored in full. It’s the only way to guarantee that things don’t go back to the way they used to be, with our children restricted to whatever happens to dominate the UK market. Our children are, I believe, worth it. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – It is unfortunate that Alison McCoy (December 6th) does not indicate the reasons why she was “put off” by the high number of translations in Eileen Battersby’s choice of the top fiction titles of 2014. However, her query about whether “there [were] really only four written in the original English worth recommending” suggests that fiction in translation is to be considered only when the literary options in one’s native language have been exhausted.  This seems an insular stance to adopt – in an era of increasing globalisation, are we to limit our reading exclusively to writers from Anglophone cultures? With around 96 per cent of all literary publications annually in the UK and Ireland being originally written in English, it is unlikely that even the most voracious bookworm will run out of reading material before she or he must resort to literature in translation. Yet in providing different stories about other cultures, world views, and histories, we believe such literatures to be essential to understanding ourselves and our position in the world. Moreover, the success of writers such as Haruki Murakami, Umberto Eco and, more recently, Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø, has demonstrated that translations too can be blockbusters. Thus we commend not only Eileen Battersby’s decision to include such a geographically and linguistically broad selection of writers in her list, but also her commitment to highlight recent developments in international literature, such as her surveys of Finnish (December 6th) and German (November 3rd) books in translation, as well her recent reviews of works by Georges Perec, Antonio Pennacchi, Hanne Orstavik, Daniel Kehlmann, Béla Zombory-Moldován, Wolfgang Koeppen, and others (in all of which she mentions the translator!). – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN KEARNS,

Irish Translators’ and

Interpreters’ Association,

Irish Writers’ Centre,

19 Parnell Square, Dublin 1.

Sir, – I endorse the sentiments expressed in Barry Devon’s letter (December 8th) about the cut in funding to the National Museum of Ireland.

A museum is not only about “old things” but about people too. The National Museum is not only part of our legacy but that of all future generations to come. – Yours, etc,

CATRIONA FOGARTY,

Sandycove,

Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Irish President Michael Higgins (L) stands next to his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a signing ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People December 9, 2014.   REUTERS/Greg Baker/Pool   (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS)

President Michael D Higgins with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a ceremony in Beijing

Ireland is a little country and our President, Michael D Higgins, is a man small in stature. Heeding that oft-quoted expression “quality goods come in small packets”, we are blessed to have the best of both worlds.

On his recent trade mission to China, our President excelled in presenting and selling our country. Culturally, and by creating so many flattering similarities between the two nations, he won hands down.

In being privileged with an instant audience with President Xi Jinping , Michael D even surpassed the UK’s David Cameron in terms of acceptance.

Within minutes of their meeting, the Chinese leader, potentially the leader of the largest and most advanced economy on earth, was accepting Michael D’s invitation to visit Ireland.

The scope to promote the Irish food industry and the tourism sector with China is colossal.

If only four Chinese multinationals set up here to employ just 12,000 people, we would be on the pig’s back.

It would be similar to the huge American companies – Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Google, Facebook and dozens more – coming here over the past 20 years.

When the Chinese discover our friendly services, technical know-how and excellent infrastructure facilities, they will spread the good news and more will follow.

With a strong support team comprising Finance Minster Michael Noonan and Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and their officials, the President’s mission will hopefully yield results.

At the end of the day, all the diplomatic niceties have just one real focus in mind – the creation of jobs we so desperately need!

James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Save our Real Tennis court

Some 75 years ago, on December 14, 1939, the Taoiseach of the day was presented with the key of one of the most desirable and valuable property holdings in Dublin city, signifying the bequest to the Irish State of Iveagh House, its gardens and associated facilities.

It was the culmination of a process that had begun two years earlier when the government had approached Rupert Guinness, second Earl of Iveagh, to buy the property, primarily for expansion of the adjacent University College.

The house, facing St Stephen’s Green, was taken over for the use of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The gardens, which Lord Iveagh stipulated should never be built on, but kept as “a lung for Dublin” have only become open to the public in the last 15 years.

The third and very little known part of the bequest was the black marble court for the playing of the ancient game of Real Tennis, whose distinctive orange brick gable abuts Earlsfort Terrace.

The donor expressed a particular wish for this cherished part of his family’s history – on which a World Championship match was staged in 1890 – “I am, of course, loath to think of the tennis court being destroyed, as I think it is unique in its way and might be appreciated by players in Dublin”.

Sadly, the players of that generation and since have never been allowed access to the beautiful court, which has suffered many depredations.

Foremost among Real Tennis players is the world champion of the past 20 years, Robert Fahey, a Tasmanian native who learned his skills on the court at Hobart, but whose forefather, James, left Loughrea, Co Galway, in 1855.

It is to be hoped that ongoing lobbying of the Government can succeed in saving the court for its intended purpose.

TD Neville, Heritage Officer, Irish Real Tennis Association, Douglas, Co Cork

Our democracy is alive and well

Does Desmond FitzGerald not see the irony of his pontificating from London about the institutions of this country being a “rotten corpse” which need to be got rid of (Letters, Irish Independent, December 11)?

This nearly 100-year-old democratic republic, like all human institutions, is less than perfect. But its flaws and its abuses of power pale into insignificance when compared with the nearly 800 years of colonial rule from London which preceded it.

Democracy in this country was not well served by the unchallenged power of the insider elite during the boom.

But that does not mean that our democratic institutions are a rotten corpse, as Mr FitzGerald says.

Neither does it mean that we should get rid of our democratic institutions and give the insider elite who bankrupted the country even more power.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13

 

Hold Israel to account

The Irish parliament has shown its mettle by supporting an independent Palestinian state.

Ireland has an impeccable track record in supporting the Palestinian people in their noble struggle for self-determination and independence.

Like any other people on the planet, Palestinians have the inviolable right to live in dignity and peace, without persistent discrimination, without siege, without home demolitions, without land confiscation, and without a litany of daily infringements on their fundamental human rights.

Isil is an anathema to humanity and Islam. This phenomena has caused thousands of refugees to flee to neighbouring countries, from beheading and crucifixions.

Yet while the world community has united to defeat the scourge of Isil, it remains silent at best and indifferent at worst to the unspeakable misery of the Palestinians. Hasn’t the time come to hold Israel accountable and put an end to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob, London NW2, UK

 

Welcoming the solar new year

The solar new year will begin on Sunday, December 21.

Measured at the Newgrange observatory (carbon dated at prior to 3200 BCE), the event will take place at 10:23 am. The window box at Newgrange shows the shadow of the new year’s sun for 28 minutes. It has been doing that for over 5,000 years at Newgrange.

It will also show the summer solstice on June 21 at the same time.

You can create your own observatory to show the winter and summer solstices for your area.

To do so: In a window, create a window box facing east, and measure the shadow of the sun at its lowest point in the year as it passes through it. Mark the farthest point of the shadow.

Now, here is the critical part. It occurs at 10:23am at Newgrange, and you must determine how many time zones you are west of Newgrange for your area.

The shadow will incline from that point throughout the year until June 21 at the same time, when the sun reaches the highest point in the sky.

Vincent Corrigan, PhD, Director of The Institute For Cultural Ecology

1916 rebels were on people’s side

Kate Casey (Letters, Irish Independent, December 14) supports the contention that the 1916 rebels had no mandate for the Rising.

Surely one has to ask what mandate the British had in Ireland? From my school history lessons, I do not recall a democratic election that resulted in British rule over Ireland.

World War I was an attempt by the imperialist powers, such as France and Britain, to extend their colonies and for Germany to begin building its own empire. For this cause, hundreds of thousands of men were sent to their deaths.

Padraig Pearse and the other leaders of the 1916 Rising were on the side of the Irish people. It seems that often we are almost ashamed to commemorate our own history and are more likely to commemorate someone else’s.

Rory O’Callaghan, Ceannt Fort, Dublin 8

Irish Independent

Sandy

December 14, 2014

14 December 2014 Sandy

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But its getting better. Sandy comes to call.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up duck for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Lydia Mordkovitch

Lydia Mordkovitch Photo: SUZIE MAEDER/LEBRECHT

Lydia Mordkovitch, who has died of cancer aged 70, was a Soviet-born violinist who made her career in Britain; her performances of Shostakovich were mesmerising and intense, and her pedigree was impeccable, thanks to her studies with David Oistrakh, with whom the composer had collaborated.

Similarly, she excelled in Prokofiev, bringing a dark and melancholy tone to his music. Meanwhile, she also became an ardent champion of British composers, ranging from the well-known, such as Britten, to the more obscure, such as John Veale and E J Moeran.

If she seemed more comfortable in the recording studio than on stage, Lydia Mordkovitch’s concerts nevertheless drew the cognoscenti. They could be memorable occasions, with the pouting, unsmiling violinist exploring the darker side of composers’ scores. She was fiery, but never flippant, and expressive, but never excitable. Few could leave her concerts unmoved, such was her deep and introspective examination of the music.

The critic Edward Greenfield declared that her recordings bore witness “not only to her masterly technique and gloriously varied tone colours, but also to her extraordinary dedication to playing long-neglected works”. Her disc of the two Shostakovich concertos – widely considered to be the best recordings after Oistrakh’s own – won a Gramophone award in 1990.

Lydia Mordkovitch was born at Saratov, south-east Russia, on April 30 1944. According to one account, she was born in a railway station after the relatives who were due to meet her expectant mother failed to turn up; they were casualties of the war.

Her family was unable to afford a piano, so she took up the violin instead aged seven. Soon she was studying in Odessa. In 1967 she was named Young Musician of the Year in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

This drew her to the attention of the musical authorities in Moscow who, even though she was married with a four-year-old daughter, brought her to the Conservatoire to study with Oistrakh.

“He had the most amazing brains,” she told one interviewer. “What Oistrakh said in one hour, nobody else said in a lifetime.” She was present during the gestation of Shostakovich’s Violin Sonata, which Oistrakh played to his students while learning it himself.

Lydia Mordkovitch (SUZIE MAEDER/LEBRECHT)

In 1969 Lydia Mordkovitch won the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition in Paris, which might have launched her international career, but little more was heard of her in the West as she pursued a career within the Soviet Union. She turned up in Moldova, teaching in Kishniev, before emigrating, in 1974, to Israel, where she was “discovered” teaching in Jerusalem by Brian Couzens, a British record company executive who persuaded her to commit the Brahms Violin Concerto to disc. When Couzens founded Chandos Records it became her permanent recording home and she would make more than 60 discs for the label.

Her British debut was with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester in 1979 and the following year, leaving behind her failing marriage, she settled in London, latterly living in St Albans. Her American debut was with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Georg Solti in 1982 and she appeared at the Proms in 1985 and 1988, on the latter occasion giving a marvellously virtuosic account of Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Marek Janowski. Her other concerts in London included an appearance with Solti and the London Philharmonic at the Festival Hall, also in 1988, and recitals at the Wigmore Hall.

Lydia Mordkovitch was a widely respected teacher, feared and loved in equal measure. She was a professor at the Royal Academy of Music from 1995, renowned for insisting that her students do more than simply practise. “Go to the ballet! Read Chekhov! Become Russian!” she exalted one protégé who was struggling with Tchaikovsky.

Her recordings are probably her most lasting legacy. One critic noted that her disc of Bliss’s Violin Concerto (2006) “offers a fiery, almost gipsy interpretation”, while her 2009 account of obscure Russian repertoire, in which she also played the viola, might not, said another, be for the faint-hearted but was “always full of sultry temperament”.

Lydia Mordkovitch never forgot her background. “Whatever Russian music I’m playing, I still feel my roots very strongly,” she said.

Lydia Mordkovitch is survived by her daughter; her granddaughter, Juliette Roos, was a finalist in the strings section of the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year.

Lydia Mordkovitch, born April 30 1944, died December 9 2014

Guardian:

Women are free to breastfeed anywhere they like. Get over it

This is not about feminism or exhibitionism, it is about feeding babies as nature intended

It’s extraordinary that there is still a debate over breastfeeding. Photograph: Observer
It’s extraordinary that there is still a debate over breastfeeding. Photograph: Observer

Nobody puts baby in a corner (or indeed a toilet) anymore (“If breastfeeding offends you, look the other way”, Barbara Ellen, Comment)! Twenty eight years ago I was shown into a toilet, with a chair in it, in order to feed my new baby son. I hasten to add that I did not stay there. I had thought that we, as a society, had come a long way since then. Establishments such as Claridge’s need to be fully aware of, and also implement, their obligations under the Equalities Act 2010.

This issue is not about feminism or exhibitionism; it is about feeding babies as nature intended and a large establishment’s apparent policy regarding “discretion” – a policy which no doubt contravenes the legislation. It is also about the obvious pressure put on women today: we are criticised if we cover too much flesh; condemned if we do not cover up enough; referred to as exhibitionists if we feed our children on demand in public.

Let us be clear, the World Health Organisation recommends that babies are solely breastfed for six months and breastfed (with other food) for two years. Women and their children are now free to feed anywhere, any time, anyhow they (and their babies and children) wish and this right is protected by the law. The pity is that such a law was necessary at all.

Isobel Kerrigan

Horsmonden

Kent

How to see off that cough

As an acoustician who devotes considerable effort to designing out extraneous noises from concert halls, it is disconcerting that this good work can be undone by people coughing (“Should you go to a concert with a cough?”, New Review).

Although the idea of free boiled sweets is a good one, I would like to suggest the provision of cough suppressors such as those used by game hunters. These are tubes lined with acoustic material and cost little. If they are good enough to make a cough inaudible to a nearby deer, they should be fine for keeping audience coughing below the threshold of disturbance.

Dr Raf Orlowski

Cambridge

Don’t do the dirty on cleaners

Congratulations on publicising the fate of the cleaners who have been left in the lurch by Saatchis (“The media giant, the cleaners and the £40,000 lost wages”, Comment). The amount owed to their cleaners by this huge media giant is a mere £40,000, and they have already offered 30% of this amount to the staff, Why not all of it? They were, after all, 100% responsible for outsourcing the cleaning, not 30%! Readers can do their bit to help by signing a petition to try to shame them into paying up, here: http://bit.ly/1z5LjMJ

Dr Richard Carter

London SW15

No need for a tizz over fizz

Combining the catering facilities within Westminster is a worthy goal that however misses the real reform that is needed (“Champagne wars in the Lords as peers say no to a cheaper vintage”, News) If members of parliament were to purchase their alcoholic drinks at market price, several benefits would accrue. The amount of alcohol consumed would go down, resulting in better health and better focus on the issues under consideration. Paying full price would increase tax revenues. And paying for champagne at full price could resolve the issue of combining catering facilities in favour of the cheaper option, which would result in additional savings.

Claudia Cullen

Leigh-on-Sea

Essex

Shame on the Lib Dems

I would rather not vote than use the “nosepeg strategy”, referred to by Andrew Rawnsley, in my Tory/Lib Dem marginal (in 2010 I voted Lib Dem and gave them some money towards their campaign) (“One leg in, one leg out. Nick Clegg had to take up the hokey-cokey”, Comment). Lib Dems have provided the Tories with a block of MPs who have enabled the most extremist rightwing government in my lifetime (born 1949) to do massive harm to our society.

Supporting failed austerity economics instead of sensible Keynesian public spending is only one of their many follies. The sheer naivety of Baroness Williams and Lord Ashdown convincing the Lib Dem conference that they had achieved changes to Andrew Lansley’s awful NHS bill was beyond stupidity – resulting in an NHS in crisis, semi-privatised, in the red – which even senior Tories admit was a disaster. All these follies, plus many others that have been foisted on us without an electoral mandate, should make the Lib Dems ashamed. They deserve to be annihilated in 2015!

Philip Wood

Kidlington

Oxon

You say tomato…

Following on from the letter from David Spaven about the US usage of train station instead of railway station, can I point out that Alex Salmond won’t be running for parliament, unless he is running in the US, but standing for parliament (“Salmond to run for seat in Westminster in 2015”).

John Alvey

Cranbrook

A more egalitarian tax system is needed if Britain's economy is to thrive.
A more egalitarian tax system is needed if Britain’s economy is to thrive. Photograph: Alamy

Will Hutton is right (“Forget austerity – what we need is a stronger state and more taxation”, Comment). But do we really need to “broaden the VAT base”? VAT is effectively a tax on the level of economic activity in a way that taxing rentier incomes is not.

Switching taxation from VAT and on to the incomes of the super-rich would increase spending on reproducible goods and services and away from spending on non-reproducible assets – the latter surely a good thing, given the state of the London property market.

VAT is also the most regressive of taxes – a poll tax on living, if you will. By all means we need to rethink the nature of taxation and the state. But even to contemplate a rise in VAT is to fall in line with modern Conservative (and Ukip) thinking, viz that the state is primarily for the poor and that therefore the poor should pay for it.

Dr William Dixon and Dr David Wilson

London Metropolitan University

Will Hutton advocates both a stronger state and more taxation. A stronger state, with political commitment to pulling the country together for the good of us all, is surely needed. But in a democracy where a government has to conform to the contradictory demands of a nervous electorate, how can austerity and effective economics be brought into balance? Democracy can work in an expanding economy, producing a surplus that provides a measure of improvement for all. Nobody fixes the roof, because everyone expects a share in a boom. Conversely, austerity has no friends for neighbours.

More taxation can sound egalitarian, but democracy is very bad at holding a balance. We need investment which provides the employment that generates the taxes that a civilised society needs. Increasing taxes on people who are already willing to pay taxes will only induce people to adopt a libertarian view.

Before we start arguing for increased taxation, we need to close tax havens which both deprive the state of its income and drive up the cost of everything a civilised society needs. If democracy can’t move to a more egalitarian tax system, both civilised society and democracy itself will be forfeit. What is lacking is political will. The bottom line: tax the untaxed, invest to create jobs, bank tax revenues, reinvest for the future. Any increase in the general standard of living should be modest.

Martin London

Henllan, Denbighshire

At last, a commentator who argues for an alternative to austerity. At the founding conference of the Independent Labour Party in Bradford in 1893, one of the delegates’ first three plebiscites was to tax wealth, not income (others included to abolish the House of Lords and dissolve the monarchy) – and this is easily achievable by transferring tax from income to land. A gradual transfer to Land Value Taxation is as relevant an objective now as it was in 1893, and is arguably more appropriate given the need to redress a spending imbalance and the radical right’s bias on taxation matters with flat taxes etc.

Ronald Mackie

Leeds

The desire for big state spending simply cannot be achieved in our increasingly low-wage economy. When pay packets have to be topped up by working tax credits and other benefits, and companies can easily route profits to another European with lower tax thresholds, then decisions have to be made as to how we live within our means. We can’t spend until we challenge the international laws that underpin the status quo.

Posted online

 

 

Independent:

It’s appalling that the Catholic Church meddles with how hospitals handle abortion in Italy (“Vatican’s influence is restricting abortions, Italian doctors warn,” 7 December).

Abortion is a private medical procedure. Religion shouldn’t come into it, but if medical staff do refuse to carry out abortions for such reasons then women must at least be made aware of who else they can safely turn to, not be turned away like outcasts.

Unwanted pregnancy can become a grave danger to mental and emotional well-being without the right support. Illegal abortions were the third biggest cause of death for Italian women before Law 194, but it’s as if the anti-choice lobby turn a blind eye to this. Abortion would be far less common if more people were educated about and had access to birth control, yet the Catholic Church won’t acknowledge that either.

To have an abortion is a personal choice. For some it can be a deeply upsetting decision, but that doesn’t mean they should not have the right to make it.

Emilie Lamplough

Trowbridge, Wiltshire

It is very troubling that Shmuley Boteach, a Jewish Oxford graduate, is unable to attempt to understand or explain why Britain is becoming more hostile to Israel (“Sex, Sainsbury’s, celebrity… and anti-Semitism”, 7 December).

Times have changed; pity for their Holocaust experience has dissipated, as the truth about Israel’s relationship towards another people, the Palestinians, is shown to be ruthless, callous and racist. Ethnic cleansing of Palestinian land continues recklessly in order that, from the river Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, all of it will be Israel.

Anna Tognarelli

Stockport

I feel Professor Mark Bishop is forgetting the Turing test, when he claims that human qualities such as understanding and consciousness cannot be replicated by computers (“Stephen Hawking versus the robots”, 7 December). Alan Turing proposed that if a human could not tell from on-screen conversations with a computer and a human, which was which then we could say the computer can “think”. The issue is not that understanding can’t be replicated, but what type of understanding is replicated.

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich, West Midlands

Stephen Hawking should listen to the writers of the Terminator TV series about the limitations of Artificial Intelligence. In it Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) states that machines “cannot appreciate beauty, they cannot create art. If they ever learn these things, they won’t have to destroy us, they’ll be us.”

Will Goble

Raleigh, Essex

Steve Connor describes Karel Capek as a Czech film-maker. In fact he was an author and playwright. The term “robot”, derived from a Slovak word, appeared in his play R.U.R. Another of his plays was The Makropulos Affair, made into an opera by Janacek.

Paul Dormer

Guildford, Surrey

I was not surprised to read of the poor take-up on the “NewBuy” and “Help to Buy” housing schemes (“NewBuy housing scheme is a 95 per cent failure”, 7 December).

Given that it is virtually impossible for many people to save at the same time as paying, sometimes exorbitant, rents and associated utility bills, why can’t a certified track record of paying rent regularly and reliably be used as a guarantee to support a mortgage of the same amount?

After all once they have a mortgage they don’t need to continue to save towards a deposit, so in fact their income is likely to benefit. If a person is able to evidence any further regular saving, such as saving towards that unachievable first-time deposit, the amount be added to how mortgage they can be offered.

No doubt there are safeguards to be built into this idea, but what about the principle? Ministers please consider it, nothing else is working.

Sue Clark

Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Times:

Some breakfast cereals are not the health foods their manufacturers like to claim Some breakfast cereals are not the health foods their manufacturers like to claim (REUTERS)

IN A week when Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urged David Cameron to set up government-backed food banks (“Back food banks, Welby tells PM”, News, last week) you reported that the stamp duty change had caused one family to cut their house-buying budget from £2m to a miserly £1.5m (“We must lower our ambitions”, Money, last week). They were planning to relocate to Italy. I hope that, once there, they may appreciate how lucky they are.
Yvonne Milne-Redhead, Clitheroe, Lancashire

Rich man, poor man

Camilla Cavendish is wrong about the tax burden of the rich (“A chancellor can dream of surplus but the truth is too few of us pay tax”, Comment, last week). Not merely do we all pay tax but some of the poorer among us pay the most, proportionately. VAT, tobacco and alcohol duties and tax on petrol make heavy inroads into the incomes of those earning less than £15,000. Then add income tax of £1,000.
Harvey Cole
Winchester

A tale of two chitties

Annual income £20, annual expenditure £20.06; “misery” — Mr Micawber. Annual income £648bn, annual expenditure £732bn; “a healthy economy” — the chancellor (“Osborne goes to war against the Lib Dems”, News, and “Face it, George, you’re the new Brown”, Focus, last week).
John Rogers, London SW16

Sugar-packed cereals making us fat

I AM 63 in January and swim a almost a mile most mornings (“‘Healthy’ cereals mix high sugar with little fruit”, News, last week). All my adult life I’ve been “beer belly”-shaped. Up until two years ago I weighed almost 11½ stone. Having cut down on my food, I was about 10½ stone this time last year. Then in April I decided to replace my supermarket breakfast cereals with my own mix of oats, bran, nuts, seeds and fruit. Within six months I came down to just under 10 stone with a 29in waist and have stayed there. At this point I realised just how much sugar there is in “healthy cereals”.
Phillip Ellis, Ascot

Healthy options

As a diabetic I always look very carefully at the sugar content of everything, and in terms of cereals I have found very few satisfactory products. Most food manufacturers care little about the health of their customers and more about profits. So, friends, buy cautiously. If you boycott the unhealthy ones, the message will get through via the profit decreases.
Peter Atkinson, Cserszegtomaj, Hungary

Heavy duty

Instead of a mansion tax proposed by the Labour party, would it not be better to introduce an obesity tax? It would not only reduce the burden on the NHS but might improve the health of a considerable proportion of our population. It would also benefit taxpayers and make travel on trains and planes more comfortable.
John Chalk, Barnet, London

Stonehenge tunnel vision misses a trick

WHY NOT build a bypass well away from Stonehenge and leave the A303 as a toll road (“A quick dig won’t do. We must move heaven and earth for Stonehenge”, Comment, last week)? People wanting to drive past the stones without entering the theme park could pay £5, say, and all the lorries and people in a hurry could speed past elsewhere. This is cheaper than a tunnel and is also revenue-raising.
John Harthman, Sheffiel

Park keepers

In “Kim Cattrall is the star of a new drama — Parks and the City” (Comment, November 30) Charles Clover does not take into account the funding crisis we face in Liverpool. Central government provides 80% of our funding and has cut this by 58%. The simple fact is that it means finding new ways of raising revenue.

In this instance, the 5½ acres adjacent to the 235-acre Sefton Park will be sold to create 34 houses sympathetic to those already around the park. We will use the capital receipt and council tax raised to help us continue to invest in our parks and other services.

Our forefathers pioneered the creation of green spaces paid for by the construction of handsome villas around them. We are doing no different around (not in) Sefton Park.
Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool

Give nursing staff a break

I FEEL compelled to comment on Jenny McCartney’s article “Little acts of kindness soothe the screams of new mums”, (Comment, last week).

While appreciating that the story of Charlotte Bevan leaving the Bristol hospital in her slippers, carrying her newborn baby Zaani Tiana, is horrendous, I felt saddened by the comment: “One cannot now go back and nudge the nurses to turn around from the vending machine to soothe her nameless terrors.”

Those nurses may well have been buying food or drink after a long shift without a break. It feeds into the story from Leicester, where NHS reception staff are banned from having hot or cold drinks at their desk because it makes them look like they might be slacking, after patients complained of long waiting times.

Nurses are human and need food/drink/rest/ lavatory breaks like the rest of the public. I am sure that the nurses at St Michael’s Hospital are distressed enough without the implication that they were somehow failing in their duties to their patients by making a purchase from a vending machine.

Providing more nurses would allow the staff who remain on the ward to monitor vulnerable patients more closely.
Jenny Lindsay (RGN, BA (Nursing) Gerontology, Dip Professional Studies), Sutherland, Highland

Fears for vanished children

HAVE retired from teaching but recall two incidents relevant to the story “87,000 ‘invisible’ children at risk of abuse” (News, last week). The mother of a 14-year-old girl announced that a “council house swap” meant her daughter was leaving for a nearby city at once. Investigations conducted by the local authority and me after her departure — prompted by the lack of any contact from a receiving school — drew a blank.

On another occasion a youngster from the Middle East was placed in the care of a family in my school’s catchment area in the Midlands. He claimed to be 13, but after an interview in London concluded he was at least 19, he vanished.

If it is impossible to identify the whereabouts of a young person, it is natural to assume that the reasons behind this are less than innocent and are potentially very sinister indeed.
Brent Robinson, Redditch

Off the radar

Your article on ‘invisible’ children and the two other stories (“Schools told to call police over sexting” and “Schools shun sick children”, News, last week) about the failure to meet the educational and safeguarding needs of some of our most vulnerable young people all have a common theme.

With the greatly increased autonomy of schools and the cuts in local-authority budgets, there is scarcely room to protect the interests of those children increasingly seen as liabilities.

It is not lawful to remove a child from the register just because they have been absent, or to require a parent to home-educate them. Our knowledge of children who have never been sent to a school is at best patchy because there is no requirement on parents to make themselves known.
Ben Whitney, Independent Education Welfare Consultant and Trainer, Wolverhampton

Regulator not to blame for mental health cuts

The health regulator Monitor is committed to supporting parity of esteem between mental and physical health services, and is not recommending cutting budgets for any services (“Overstretched mental health services need funding boost”, Letters, last week). Decisions about how much to spend on services, and what prices to pay, are made at local level through negotiation between commissioners and providers, not by Monitor. The NHS does face significant pressures on its overall budget, as set out in its Five Year Forward View. In response, mental health services, along with all other services, are expected to make efficiency improvements.
Adrian Masters, Managing Director, Sector Development, Monitor, London SE1

A boney to pick

Napoleon was not defeated by the British alone (“British to spare Boney’s blushes at Waterloo II”, News, last week), but by an allied army of nearly 200,000 men, 70% of whom were German. The Duke of Wellington mustered the remaining 30%, many of whom were Dutch and Belgian. We really need to do better after 200 years.
Colin Russell, Cambridge

TIME TO Give HIM the elba

Good to hear that we plan to spare Boney’s blushes in June 2015, but what about our own in allowing him to “re-escape” from Elba (a period of exile that the Italian island already celebrates) and “re-disembark” in Golfe-Juan in France on March 1, 2015? Thereafter a procession will set out on — you’ve guessed it — the Route Napoléon.
Barry Mellor, London N7

Transparency is key to distribution of aid

Lord Monson’s letter (“Aid hand-outs do not always go to the right causes”, Letters, November 30) about British aid to Kenya only touches the tip of the iceberg in terms of the frivolous attention that is paid to the delivery of aid in developing countries. Do the Department for International Development, along with supranational bodies such as the UN and its truant children Unicef and Unesco — and, I’m afraid, too many international non-governmental organisations — not realise that effective aid is dependent upon transparency of how the funds provided have been used? The true value of giving is reliant on ensuring that the money goes on making a quantifiable and sustainable difference at the point of need. That means spending time “on the ground” and monitoring expenditure against what has been achieved. We would never accept such a negligent approach in commercial ventures. Perish the thought that it is all about presentation and politics.
Christopher Lavender, Kadoorie Charitable Foundation, Hong Kong

Relative values

More MPs are employing relatives, and the cost of doing so is unregulated (“MPs give spouses a £1.3m pay rise”, News, last week). For the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to allow this when public-sector workers are under severe pay restraint is unacceptable. Are we not all “in this together”?
Jim Stather
Lowestoft

Finding his marbles

I don’t often agree with Dominic Lawson but he was spot-on about the amorality of art and culture in “Seeing one of Elgin’s marbles won’t make Russians think like us” (Comment, last week). Art can be didactic, but its lessons may not be ones we approve of. Like religion, it expresses our need for transcendence.
Paul Thomson, Knutsford, Cheshire

Maternal tragedy

Jenny McCartney says it all in “Little acts of kindness to soothe the silent screams of new mums” (Comment, last week). The days after the birth of my daughter were the worst 10 days of my life and my family have heard me say over the years that if I hadn’t been so exhausted I would have walked out. That was in 1978. As I watched footage of Charlotte Bevan leaving hospital in Bristol, I hoped she would reach home safely. As we know, she didn’t.
Sylvia Scrivener, Ipswich

Mechanical response

Robots may soon rule the world (“Hal and his pals may wipe us out while we’re not looking”, Comment, last week), so it has been mooted that they be programmed with human values to ensure a sense of social morality. When we consider how such values are ignored — why should a machine behave any better?
Roger Carrington, Parekklisia, Cyprus

Repeat offender

The BBC has about 23,000 employees and a £5bn annual income (“Make way while I run the BBC off the road to Wigan Pier”, Comment, last week). Yet reportedly 63% of its Christmas offerings will be repeats: how much is the tape-changer paid?
Vincent Sinnott, St Raphael, France

Reaching a disagreement

I frequently disagree with what AA Gill says but admire the way he says it (“Beyond the Palin”, Letters, last week).
Henry Malt, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

Making an exit

I feel your reader Dr G Sandler has not truly explained the term “nebbish” (“Language lesson”, Letters, last week). The best definition is that when a nebbish enters a room, it feels as if someone has left.
Martin Bronstein, Weybridge, Surrey

Lessons in new thinking

When, oh when, will some members of the Labour party excise their perceived problem concerning private education (“Murphy’s warning to private schools”, News, last week)? Labour’s philosophy is often described, somewhat unkindly in my opinion, as the politics of envy. If private schools do indeed have meritorious aspects over and above state schools, surely the thing to do is to give the state schools those merits, too. I was always taught that you do not make yourself one inch taller by remarking on the lack of height of others.
Doug Clark, Currie, Midlothian

Face facts

Your photo accompanying the article “May exiles first British family” (News, last week) surely takes the biscuit for irrelevance, having as it does all faces pixelated out. What are we to make of that? Not much more, I suggest, than that your report involved human beings; a fact we might have been able to grasp from the text alone.
Darrell Desbrow, Dalbeattie, Kirkcudbrightshire

Figure it out

Steuart Campbell (“Polls apart”, Letters, last week) does not address the two simple figures that the SNP certainly disregard when it claims an allegedly narrow result. Out of the total number of people eligible to vote, only 37.8% voted “yes” for independence. Also, the number of votes cast for “no” was 23.7% larger than the number of votes for “yes”.

Vaughan Hammond

Braco, Perthshire

Letters should arrive by midday on Thursday and include the full address and a daytime and an evening telephone number. Please quote date, section and page number. We may edit letters, which must be exclusive to The Sunday Times

Corrections and clarifications

In Camilla Long’s interview with John Humphrys in today’s Magazine, the phrase “They [the BBC] were frightened of appearing racist” was inaccurate. Mr Humphrys did not say this and we apologise for this error.

In “Schools shun sick children” (News, last week) we attributed a comment about attendance procedures at Parkside and Titus Salt schools to Leeds city council. The local authority for both schools is Bradford. We apologise for the error.

“Relative values” (Magazine November 30) wrongly referred to Sir James Dyson’s tutor as Roger Fry instead of Jeremy Fry. We apologise for the error.

Complaints about inaccuracies in all sections of The Sunday Times, should be addressed to complaints@sunday-times.co.uk or Complaints, The Sunday Times, 1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF. In addition, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) will examine formal complaints about the editorial content of UK newspapers and magazines. Please go to our complaints section for full details of how to lodge a complaint.

Birthdays

Antony Beevor, historian, 68; Jane Birkin, actress, 68; Miranda Hart, comedian, 42; Natascha McElhone, actress, 43; Beth Orton, singer, 44; Michael Owen, footballer, 35; Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil, 67; Helle Thorning-Schmidt, prime minister of Denmark, 48; Chris Waddle, footballer, 54

Anniversaries

1782 the Montgolfier brothers’ first balloon test flight lifts off; 1911 Roald Amundsen becomes the first person to reach the South Pole; 1972 Eugene Cernan is the last person to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 17 mission; 2012 Adam Lanza kills 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut

Telegraph:

For more than a decade, motorists buying diesel cars have enjoyed tax breaks because the cars produce lower levels of carbon dioxide and are more fuel efficient

The City of London has prohibited engine idling to help improve air quality Photo: Alamy

SIR – I can confirm Wendy Mead’s statement (Letters, December 11) that the City of London has prohibited engine idling to help improve air quality. I live in the City and can assure Mrs Mead that the vans, taxis, cars and coaches parked there are either totally unaware of the ban or choose to ignore it.

Unfortunately when it’s very cold, or indeed very hot, mentioning that engines should be turned off is met with a none-too-friendly response. We need boots on the ground to remind drivers to turn off their engines or risk a fine. Legislation is one thing, enforcement another.

Nancy Chessum
London EC2

SIR – Wendy Mead, defending a 20mph limit in the City, fails to grasp basic engineering concepts.

At 30mph my engine runs at about 1,200rpm. At 20mph in a lower gear, it runs at about 2,000rpm. So mile for mile, there are more combustion cycles, and thus pollutants, just where she doesn’t want them. My vehicle is most efficient at about 66mph, but clearly this is unsafe in a built-up area; 30mph is a sensible limit in terms of safety, efficiency and emissions.

Alan Bennett
Carterton, Oxfordshire

SIR – The technology already exists to manage pollution from diesel engines.

There are many diesel-powered vehicles available which conform to “Euro 6” emission standards, producing fewer oxides of nitrogen and giving good economy too, which helps eke out oil supplies.

Perhaps we can hope that one day there may be new machines that are not dependent on fossil fuels at all.

Tim Bradbury
Northwich, Cheshire

SIR – Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) is a cleaner fuel than either diesel or petrol, and is available from more than 1,000 filling stations across Britain.

A system has now been devised to convert diesel engines as well as petrol engines to LPG. It would not be difficult to convert London’s black cabs, whose owners could then set up their own LPG filling tanks throughout the capital.

G A Lock
Churt, Surrey

SIR – My diesel car has both a catalytic converter and a particulate filter. Do such things work, and if not, against which of the pollutants and under what conditions?

We hear nothing of compulsory testing or licensing regimes, just “diesel bad, petrol good”.

John Stone
Farnborough, Hampshire

SIR – London must be the only city where the aeroplanes fly overhead day and night, spewing out pollution. Taking away diesel vehicles is not going to solve the problem.

Hermione Delano-Osborne
Florence, Italy

In economic denial

Paul Grover for The Sunday Telegraph

SIR – Had I not been driving, I would have fallen off my seat when I heard the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, declaring on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday morning that “we will inherit a large deficit”, with no degree of recognition that his party had actually handed such a deficit to the present Coalition Government.

Robin M Phoenix
Gisburn, Lancashire

SIR – At last the Labour Party has realised that in order to sustain a modern economy and not beggar our children, you have to balance the books. It has taken the party nearly five years to understand the economic plight it left behind, so why would anyone trust it with the task of trying to get it right the next time round?

Ken Smith
Wokingham, Berkshire

SIR – Ed Balls says that the Coalition has made the average worker £1,600 worse off. He and his Labour colleagues were responsible for the debt in the first place.

How can he attempt to pass the blame? Admittedly not many people trust him anyway, but the Coalition should make more of this.

Ian James
London NW9

SIR – Why does George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, use the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) to pay out but the Retail Prices Index (RPI) to take in?

Mr Osborne tells us that regulated rail fare rises in 2015 will be capped at 2.5 per cent, which was last July’s rate of inflation as measured by the RPI. In his emergency Budget in 2010 Mr Osborne decreed that public-sector pensions, and pensions that shadow the public sector, would in future receive increases linked to the lower CPI. The CPI increase in July 2014 was 0.9 percentage points less than the RPI increase at 1.6 per cent.

In March 2013, in a cynical political move, the UK Statistics Authority removed the RPI as a national statistic. The RPI/CPI User Group Committee of the Royal Statistical Society is holding a public meeting on Thursday to discuss this.

Perhaps the Chancellor should attend.

Mike Post
Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Frankly disappointed

SIR – Instead of encouraging philatelists, the Royal Mail often disappoints them by allowing the obliteration of unfranked stamps with crude biro scribbles.

This destroys all philatelic interest. Surely the company could devise a less crude method – there is plenty of small, hand-held machinery behind the counter of any post office.

Anne Everest
Sidmouth, Devon

Musical theatre

SIR – As a surgeon, I have always preferred opera in the operating theatre.

I have often tested the skills of my anaesthetic colleagues by joining in with Nessun Dorma.

David Nunn
West Malling, Kent

SIR – It used to be traditional for anaesthetists to complete the Telegraph crossword once their patients were safely “under”.

I looked up from the operating table recently to see a senior colleague playing Candy Crush.

Hugh Warren
Harpley, Norfolk

Who’s to blame for the modern Brussels sprout

The sprout fan’s friend: a good frost is regarded as lending flavour to the vegetable (Sue Robinson / Alamy )

SIR – The Brussels sprout as such was unknown in ancient Rome. Writers in ancient Rome did describe heading-cabbage and kohlrabi that were also varieties of the highly variable Brassica oleracea cabbage species.

The modern sprout dates from a genetic one-off found in Belgium in 1750. By 1800 it had reached England, becoming known as chou de Bruxelles. Earlier records from the 13th century and illustrated by Jacques Dalechamps in 1587 were probably a different species, Brassica capitata.

Roger Croston
Chester

SIR – North of the border, the man in red who comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve is, and always has been, not Father Christmas but Santa Claus.

Mary Firth
Edinburgh

Future of immigration

SIR – Your leading article is spot on: the issue of immigration is about more than just space and economics. It’s about society and culture, both of which will be adversely affected by continued high levels of immigration. That prized virtue of tolerance will be a casualty.

Despite everything, David Cameron continues to support Turkish membership of the EU. This will lead inevitably to even more immigration, no matter what transitional controls are put in place.

Malcolm Williams
Southsea, Hampshire

Flying blind

SIR – How degrading to learn that Britain had to ask Nato to search for a Russian submarine in our waters north of Scotland; and all because our misinformed Prime Minister cancelled our brand new aerial recce fleet in the name of cuts when he took power.

Yet still he wants our votes next year.

Richard Waldron
Woolavington, Somerset

For better, for worse

SIR – When did the fashion for men wearing wedding bands start?

Neither my father nor any of his friends sported a wedding ring; nor did my maternal grandfather; nor, according to family photographs, did his father or uncle. A good friend of mine wore a heavy gold wedding ring in the Sixties, but his friends thought it a Continental custom.

I have copied my maternal grandfather and now wear a thin band under my signet ring, to celebrate my relatively recent marriage publicly.

Simon Edsor
London SW1

Brand deterioration

SIR – When will the BBC start to take Question Time seriously again?

The inclusion of “celebrity” personalities on the panel has turned it from a serious debate into something approaching comedy. Thursday night’s programme was like a brawl in a bar, with Russell Brand throwing the beer glasses.

It’s about time David Dimbleby took a leaf out of his brother’s book and chaired the programme on the same lines as Radio 4’s Any Questions.

Tony Cross
Sevenoaks, Kent

No-man’s-land football game, Christmas 1915

SIR – During the First World War, similar events to those of Christmas 1914 also took place in 1915 in France, though they are less well known.

My father, Ralph Worfolk, enlisted in Kitchener’s Army in September 1914. I am fortunate to have his diary that runs up to his demobilisation in January 1919.

As a member of the 61st Field Ambulance Unit of the 20th Light Division he was posted to Estaires, and served at various dressing stations during the battle of Loos in the autumn of 1915.

His diary entry for December 25 1915 reads: “Fine Xmas weather. Brigade in the line, since 23rd and an attack expected, so we were confined to billets.

“Big dinner (off plates!) at 2pm. Roast beef, spuds and plenty of glasses of Worthington’s for each man. Guards Div in the line, no rifle fire but artillery fairly active. Three Germans came out of their trenches and started to bury their dead. Three or four dead bodies of our men were lying close to the Guards’ line and the Germans came over and took them away, burying them along with theirs.

“An officer of the Scots Guards detailed three of his men to go and help. They did and the Germans gave them wine and cigars. More of our men went over and took a football and there was a lively time for 5 or 10 minutes. Somebody put the artillery on this part of the line and there was a rumpus.

“Court Martials in the air. Guards had green envelopes stopped.”

It seems that the senior officers did not want a repeat of the previous year’s fraternisation. The green envelope (Army form A 3078) referred to was issued to the troops for the transmission of letters relating to family matters only. Their provision was regarded as a privilege.

Michael Worfolk
Southport, North Carolina, United States

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – The comments of Fine Gael TD John Deasy on the march of Sinn Fein (Sunday Independent, 7 December) will seem to many of your readers, accurate and timely.

However, as a Northerner from an SDLP background, Mr Deasy’s remarks sent the alarm bells ringing. The comments about Sinn Fein vice-president, Mary Lou McDonald, using the Public Accounts Committee as a “kangaroo court” are quite legitimate.

But Mr Deasy goes on to reveal that he believes that “the public are starting to see through Sinn Fein’s tactics”. That is the kind of wishful thinking that saw the SDLP pushed aside by Sinn Fein in the North. The public don’t see Sinn Fein as white knights. They never have and they never will. That is why their voting conversion to Sinn Fein is rarely reversed. In most cases, once they go to Sinn Fein, they stay there.

John Deasy himself tells us why most Sinn Fein voters sign up in the context of the Tanaiste being trapped in her car recently: “that brand of bullying politics that worked so well in other places will not work here.”

The reason why people go to Sinn Fein is precisely because they send out a signal to everyone who wants to listen that they are the muscle who’ll stop at nothing to make things right. They are bullies and many voters recognize that and support them for it. Everyone knows that they also have links to now dormant (?) IRA operatives and that can affect the nature and extent of the response to them. People can keep their heads down or suggest that they are “too afraid” to read out names of sex abusers in republican ranks.

The bottom line is that Sinn Fein are perceived as packing a punch, fearless when taking on those who annoy them and ready to get their hands dirty. Ultimately they soil everything and everyone in politics and that is why, in their worldview, cynicism is encouraged and elevated. Other parties need to adapt the strategy to deal with them, rather than rely on solo runs from various politicians.

John O’Connell, Derry

 

Give disabled choice

Madam – My wonderful, bright, loving and lovable son has an intellectual disability. The system of services for people with intellectual disability in this country is broken.

When a service is set up and staffed by highly paid individuals, a strange thing seems to happen. A new, bureaucratic system develops at the place where the person with intellectual disability should be.

We should ask who are these services for ? They are not for my son. Shouldn’t the power lie with the person with the disability and his family?At present, highly funded institutions hold the power in decision-making. I think this results in institutions pressurising parents to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the child.

Regrettably, large institutions tend to have a dehumanising effect and this can be reflected in attitudes.

People in Ireland work hard to support our children with disabilities. But, where does the money go ? It does not follow the person and his needs. It follows overheads, salaries, buildings and so on. It is far cheaper to buy therapies or care or aids and appliances privately than it is to fund a large service to supply these. I know this. I bought them.

When will our children be treated as individuals – not as service users in serviceland?

When will persons with intellectual disabilities be allowed to make the choices everyone else takes for granted and be given the freedom to determine the course their lives will take?

Margaret Gregg, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin

 

Homeless need extra help

Madam – Jody Corcoran (Sunday Independent, 7  December) writes about the “homeless industry” having questions to answer.

He made important points such as the need for funding to homeless charities to be targeted effectively to address the complex needs of homeless people, and also the idea of a Housing First strategy, providing a home first and fast.

But for many of our homeless this will also require intensive support to maintain their tenancy and lots of disparate housing charities will not be able to deliver the support if they are not co-ordinated, and managed appropriately.

It is also naive to think that all our homeless can be housed, because a small number will remain far too vulnerable because of mental health and addiction issues to be able to live safely in the community without supervision.

Frank Browne, Templeogue, Dublin 16

 

Ministers fiddle as the homeless die

Madam – I was very sad when I heard about the poor homeless man who died on the street outside the Dail.

On the same news programme there was a story about an ex-minister who was in court claiming for money he wasn’t meant to have.

So I was thinking that if this ex-TD and others like him didn’t claim the money that they were not meant to have, would there be extra money to help the homeless? And maybe even have stopped that man from dying?

Ali Cawley (6th Class), Kilross NS, Co Sligo

 

Light-fingered postal Grinch

Madam – What is the world coming to when Government services are not to be trusted anymore?

I posted a letter to my granddaughter in Kerry last Wednesday week. The child’s name is Grace and it contained a simple card that said “Santa please stop here for Grace” and a plastic light-up badge with her name on it.

Somebody in An Post must have thought there was something worth stealing because when it reached the destination it was half an envelope enclosed in a plastic bag with a note from the authorities saying that it “seemed to have been interfered with”.

Little did they know when they put their livelihood at risk, that they were two “expensive” items from Dealz costing €1.49 each, just to bring a smile to a little girl’s face.

The fact that I put two stamps at 68c on the envelope didn’t make it any safer.

Liz Hartigan, Dublin 11

 

Teachers already do “best practice”

Madam – I fully agree with Eoghan Harris in relation to his views on apprenticeships, This is the way forward for a very large section of our young people and should be given the support and status it deserves.

However I strongly disagree with the predictable, lazy and wrong position relating to teachers and reform. The point that is being missed in almost all debate on this issue is at present “best practice” relating to further proposed “project work” already exists and is in place.

For example there is the Junior Cycle ‘Materials Technology Wood’ (MTW) exam project completed by 15,000 students over a six-month period and externally assessed. This is currently happening in a wide range of subjects, so the correct model is in place at present.

The real issue is in fact our old friends again – cutbacks and funding. This should be clearly stated by the proposers of these reforms. They should not be hiding behind bland meaningless terms that are being rolled out on this and many other issues.

Conor Gill, Manor Kilbride, Co Wicklow

 

Central Bank disputes report

Madam – your columnist Charlie Weston recently made a number of criticisms of the Central Bank (Sunday Independent, 7 December).

He dismisses as “measly” or “paltry” the recent fines imposed by the Central Bank on financial service providers. The Central Bank operates, as it must, within a legal framework that limits the scope for fines that can properly be imposed. The fines recently imposed on Provident and Ulster Bank for breaches are at the upper end of those limits. With regard to the Provident case, it has been suggested that the fine of €105,000 that was imposed is small in the context of the UK stock market valuation and turnover of the Provident group of companies. But the Central Bank can only concern itself with the Irish-regulated entity (Provident Personal Credit Limited).

In the Ulster Bank case, the €3.5m fine imposed was the maximum that could have been imposed, allowing for settlement discount in accordance with published Central Bank policy.

In addition, the Central Bank insisted on, and oversaw, a customer restitution process that saw €59m paid by Ulster Bank to its customers because of its failings.

The Central Bank has made frequent public references to its ultimately successful request that legislation should increase the allowable penalties far in excess of the ceiling which bound us in the case of Ulster Bank, and since the commencement of the Central Bank Act 2013, our maximum penalties on firms have been doubled to €10 million or to an amount equal to 10 per cent of the turnover of the firm, whichever is higher.

On the subject of the transfer of Newbridge Credit Union to PTSB, our application to the High Court was the orderly conclusion of an exhaustive process aimed at finding a solution within the credit union sector for the failing Newbridge. The transfer resulted in ensuring that the members of Newbridge Credit Union had continuity of service and none of them lost any funds. As to the case of Bloxham Stockbrokers, thanks to the work of the Central Bank, no clients of Bloxham lost money.

On the appearance by the Governor of the Central Bank at a recent Oireachtas Committee, the published transcript will show that he specifically stated that the standard published figures on mortgage interest rates (which are calculated according to standard international practice) are not irrelevant.

And on the question of our new headquarters building on North Wall Quay, this will deliver considerable operational efficiencies and lower running-costs. The Central Bank has not published its cost estimates as there is a tendering process ongoing; however the costs will be in line with construction industry norms for similar buildings.

Neil Whoriskey, secretary, Central Bank of Ireland, Dublin

 

Aran Islanders grow their own

Madam – I wish to compliment Mr. Murt Hunt, on his Letter of the Week (Sunday Independent, 7 December), about his attempts to buy Irish fruit and veg.

I have visited the Aran Islands on a few occasions. Inis Oirr is the smallest of the three islands, off the infamous Clare Coast, sailing from Doolin.

I was enthralled and bewildered, in equal measure, to see their “post-card” size gardens, meticulously kept. Surrounded by stone walls, by the inhabitants, that so proudly live there. It is a sight to behold, how these people toil, to sow their crops, in rich sandy soil, to supply their five a day.

They are to be greatly admired for making themselves self-sufficient when cut off from the superstores.

Spare a thought for them at Christmas though – they possibly have just one day to do all their Christmas shopping, in Galway on the mainland.

And even that depends on the weather and the sea conditions.

Jeanette Leckey, Lanesborough, Co Longford

 

How can they kill in midst of beauty?

Madam – What a wondrous, beautiful world we live in. Whether a winter snow-scene or a lovely autumnal sunset or early sunrise, I say ‘Thank God!’ for eyesight to see and health to enjoy each day.

It’s very hard to take in, or think what goes on in the minds of persons who kill and bury other humans in the same God-given Earth!!

Drugs or drink is no excuse. Will th e perpetrators find peace as they prepare to return to the dust of the earth, as we all must? Same earth for all!

Kathleen Corrigan, Cootehill, Co Cavan

 

1916 could bring about a reconciliation

Madam –  Sharing the ownership of Easter Week 1916, so cogently argued by Professor Ronan Fanning in your columns last Sunday, is surely a most worthwhile objective for the national commemoration.

Despite the reservations by John Bruton and some of your correspondents about the rationale for the Rising, it was the firm belief of my father, Jack Shouldice, and his colleagues in the Irish Volunteers, that a protest in arms was a bitter necessity. They believed that the suspension of the 1914 Home Rule Act was in effect its coup de grace, in view of the growing influence of Carson at Westminster, the unrestricted armed drilling by the Ulster Volunteers and the reluctance of senior British Army officers to enforce the Act – as evidenced in the Curragh Mutiny.

My father and his brother Frank’s dearest wish was to see the Civil War enmities resolved in a spirit of harmony. I found it therefore a sad irony that after Jack’s funeral Mass in February 1965 at Fairview Church, I saw two tall elderly men in black overcoats and Homburg hats talking intimately to each other.

The men were Eamon de Valera and WT Cosgrave.

How sad that this spirit of togetherness did not bear fruit during the following five decades. Perhaps the 2016 Commemoration might finally see a much desired reconciliation?

Chris Shouldice, Templeogue, Dublin 16

Britain thrived, but we stumbled

Madam – Ronan Fanning tells us that Ireland’s constitutional nationalists were destroyed by the failure of British parliamentary democracy.

Yet it was this democracy that passed legislation in March 1918, when the country was in desperate conflict with the Central Powers, trebling the size of the electorate in Britain and Ireland, enfranchising women for the first time.

At the termination of hostilities it was this democracy that immediately called a general election in December 1918. It was then (and not in 1916) that the greatly increased electorate of Ireland, most of whom were voting for the first time, chose to replace Mr Redmond’s party with Sinn Fein members.

In the election of 1922, the Sinn Fein party was dismissed from Irish politics (at least until recently). Mr de Valera and his cohorts ignored the democratic decision and shamefully attempted to usurp the result by Civil War.

Even under the harshest circumstances it seems that British democracy was thriving. Ireland’s own nascent democracy stumbled badly at the first fence.

Charles Hazell, Fethard, Co Tipperary

 

We were on wrong side in WWI

Madam – I wish to support Pierce Martin’s contention (Sunday Independent, December 7) that the 1916 rebels had no mandate and they brought death to civilians and hunger and destruction to the city.

It was a stab in the back to hundreds of thousands of Irish men fighting in the British, Commonwealth and the American armies. Pearse considered Kaiser Germany and sultanate Turkey our “gallant allies” when the free world considered them war criminals.

I do not want the 1916 celebration to remind us that we were on the wrong side.

Kate Casey, Barrington Street, Limerick

 

What about US, France and Italy?

Madam – In his letter ‘Let’s save the 1916 millions’ Pierce Martin states that no other liberal democracy has as its “foundation stone, the brute force of an insurrection carried by an elitist private army against the will of the people” except ours.

Well, except of course there’s the French Revolution, the American War of Independence and Garibaldi’s Uprising, which ended Papal control of the Papal States. No votes or referendums in any of those cases.

John Collins, Carlow

Sunday Independent

Peter Rice

December 13, 2014

13 December 2014 Peter Rice

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But its getting better. Peter Rice finishes off the shelves.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up trout for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

Anne Sorby

Anne Sorby

Anne Sorby, who has died aged 91, was a member of the Special Operations Executive and part of a covert operation to repair relations with China and restore British prestige in south-east Asia, which had received a seemingly terminal reverse after the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in December 1941.

Anne Sorby was despatched to Kunming, south-west China, in 1944 and was one of the SOE team that ran Operation Remorse. Although she was one of the administrative staff, she quickly found herself in the shark pool of adventurers, swindlers, crooks and frontiersmen associated with the Chinese black market.

Dealers acting for Remorse could buy several times more Nationalist currency than could be purchased at the official rates. Walter Fletcher, a rubber planter who was subsequently knighted and became a British MP, and Edward Wharton-Tigar, a spy, saboteur and mining executive, were among the colourful characters who played a leading role in the operation.

Penal exchange rates were avoided by establishing a network of distributors and buyers of low-bulk, high-value items such as Indian rupees, watches, diamonds, medicines and whisky. The funds raised provided military equipment for Chiang Kai-shek’s army and helped to bolster Chinese resistance to the advance of the Japanese.

The money was also employed in suborning provincial government officials, buying influence, safety and food for Allied prisoners of war as well as financing American air force bases and purchasing supplies for aid agencies like the Red Cross.

The business soon became immensely (and embarrassingly) profitable for the SOE, but proved of vital importance in keeping the British foot in China’s door and in making sure that Allied forces were in a position to reclaim the colony as a secure base for Sino-British trade.

Anne Sorby never forgot the rapacity of the Chinese warlords with whom they had to deal, or seeing starving peasants being crucified for stealing grain. Kunming was also a base for the American Volunteer Group, known as the Flying Tigers. Wharton-Tigar used to take a whistle to the wild parties thrown by the Tigers. He would blow it loudly to summon his girls home when he felt that things were getting out of hand and it was time for the English contingent to withdraw.

Anne Sorby (left) with friends at Kunming in 1944

Anne Sorby also took part in Operation Waldorf, aimed at helping Free French soldiers who had managed to struggle into Free China from French Indo-China. She was based in a commandeered temple and obtained supplies from the local warlord in exchange for Napoleon brandy.

Linda Margaret Anne Burrows was born at Worcester on October 16 1922. She went to Abbot’s Hill School, Hemel Hempstead, until she was aged 16. Her father was a soldier serving overseas, so she was largely brought up by her aunt and uncle in Kent.

In 1940, she joined MI6 and was billeted at Keble College, Oxford, where she achieved the feat of climbing over the roofs of all the university colleges. She was based at Blenheim Palace but found the work insufficiently exciting and volunteered for an overseas posting with SOE. She had taught herself Mandarin and was posted to China. The last leg of the flight took her over the Himalayas and she saw the remains of crashed aircraft littering the mountainsides.

Her remarkable wartime experiences left Anne Sorby with a deep and lasting love of the Far East. After the war, she joined the Military Administration in Hong Kong. While working there, she struck up a friendship with Terence Sorby, a veteran of El Alamein who was forging a successful career in the colonial administration.

In 1947, she returned to England and worked in various secretarial positions but went back to Hong Kong in 1954 to marry Terence. He subsequently became director of commerce and industry in the colony. She was an indefatigable fundraiser for charities.

Anne Sorby and her husband returned to England in 1973 and settled in Kent. He predeceased her and she is survived by their two sons and two daughters.

Anne Sorby, born October 16 1922, died September 28 2014

Guardian:

Lenny Henry as Adam in Rudy's Rare Records by Danny Robins at Birmingham Rep earlier this year. Phot

Lenny Henry as Adam in Rudy’s Rare Records by Danny Robins at Birmingham Rep earlier this year. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Janet Suzman claims that theatre is a white invention and only in the DNA of white people (Report, 9 December). The Tricycle Theatre is my local theatre in the middle of a multicultural area. When there is an Irish play the theatre is full of Irish people, when there is a black play with black actors (such as the recent The House That Will Not Stand) it is full of black people, and so on. I also go to the National Theatre, where there is a nearly exclusively white (and middle-aged) audience. But put on a play such as Elmina’s Kitchen by Kwame Kwei-Armah and suddenly there are lots of black people in the audience. When the subject matter is relevant, and when there are black or other minority ethnic actors and directors involved, you find audiences of all backgrounds.
Sean Baine
London

Working in Leicester schools with Indian (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh) students, the immediacy of theatre presented few problems. Audience was a different matter. Taking productions into local theatre attracted few parents. Years ago the (then) Haymarket Theatre employed the poet Mahendra Solanki to encourage bookings from our new and growing Indian population with scant result. A beautiful new theatre was incorporated in the Peepul Centre located in the “Cultural Quarter”. Despite that, even Tara Arts and specially adapted productions attracted few local residents.

And so it appears to continue at the recently built Curve. Janet Suzman’s analysis of why theatre fails to attract a wider audience may be challenging but in my experience she certainly speaks from fact.
Peter Worrall
Leicester

As a white, middle-aged man, I have always regarded drama as an invaluable means of increasing my appreciation of our diverse society. But if ethnic minority communities don’t relate strongly to theatre as an art form, let’s just admit it and get over it. There are many other ways in which people can express themselves and try to understand each other better. And what’s the point of the Arts Council threatening sanctions against theatre groups who don’t do sufficiently “diverse” work if it’s not very likely to put bums on seats? Running a theatre is tough enough already.
Alan Clark
London

I recently went to see Rudy’s Rare Records at the Birmingham Rep and felt like I was the only white person in the audience.
Roger Halford
Solihull

The salient point is not whether black people go to the theatre – but that all British citizens are taxed so that the government and councils can pour subsidies into theatres for a liberal elite to put on plays that no one (regardless of ethnicity) wants to go and see.
Paul Brazier
London

As a teacher I regularly used to take my sixth formers – most of whom were Asian – to the London theatre, opera and ballet. As well as encouraging them to love the arts, I was also trying to dispel the myth that such places were not for the likes of them. But I couldn’t help noticing that even in productions like Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s The Island – a South African play about Robben Island with black actors – and a production of Twelfth Night set in India with Indian actors, the audience was still overwhelmingly white and middle class.

By all means let’s commission more Asian, Chinese and African-Caribbean theatre, but getting a more diverse audience to see it is another story.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor

Janet Suzman makes the elementary mistake of assuming that whatever she doesn’t happen to know about doesn’t exist . She asserts that all theatre comes from the ancient Greeks. Many sophisticated plays were written in Sanskrit in India from about 200BC to 500AD, and are available in English translation. Many more are thought to have been lost.
John Wilson
London

I am no expert on the origins of theatre, but if it is not free to examine critically our beliefs, customs, ideas and institutions, it is neutered. So my response to Meera Syal is to wonder whether some of the Asian ethnic and religious minorities are willing to accept this critical freedom. I am reminded of Behzti, the play which depicted a rape in a Sikh temple at the Birmingham Rep in 2004. Violent demonstrations forced it to close and the playwright fled into hiding.

Similarly, I doubt whether seriously critical drama involving Islam can be tolerated. As long as artistic freedom is compromised, it is not theatre that has a case to answer but those who are unable to entertain ideas that conflict with their beliefs.
Colin McCulloch
Reading


I am writing to clarify comments which appeared as part of an interview about bus and rail transport policy (Stagecoach boss: free bus travel comes at a cost, 11 December) and subsequent claims by shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher MP. To be clear, at no time have I ever said, nor would I say, that I or anyone else in the Stagecoach Group organisation is underpaid. Any suggestion or inference to that effect is simply not true.

What I have argued is that the margins earned by train operators in the UK are low, between 2-3%. The point I have made is that these sector returns should be considered in light of the risks assumed, management and staff responsibilities and the very significant financial contractual commitments that we, the industry, have to government to make premium payments or reduce subsidies. It is that industry input which has delivered Europe’s best, safest and fastest-growing railway, providing funding to government to reinvest in public services.

It is disappointing that some politicians try to create mischief rather than acknowledging the successes of our transport system and working in partnership to face up to the challenges we face.
Martin Griffiths
Chief executive, Stagecoach Group

For a prominent businessman, Martin Griffiths of Stagecoach seems unfamiliar with the concept of demand elasticity. Does he really believe that the same number of senior bus-pass holders – for whose journeys his company and other bus operators are remunerated from public funds, thereby keeping many marginal routes viable – would be using his buses if they were required to pay the full public fare?
Roger Pennell
St Albans, Hertfordshire

 

'I feel immensely proud of Britain for providing a health care service that is brilliant and accessi
‘I feel immensely proud of Britain for providing a health care service that is brilliant and accessible to all,’ writes Gael Mosesson. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Life-affirming experiences don’t come much more convincingly than cancer. In June Mr Tim Duncan, with his steady gaze and infinite blue eyes, told me that I had cancer of the ovaries, bowel and possibly liver. I had gone to see my GP, a few weeks before, thinking that I was intolerant to wheat (feeling bloated is apparently a common symptom; ladies be warned). I can’t imagine what it is like having to tell people the news that they may not see their children grow up and alarmingly, these days, telling it regularly. I write to thank Mr Duncan for his gentle patience as my world crashed before me, and to sing from the roof tops praise for the NHS, with its incredible staff who have looked after me and my family through these five months.

I was admitted to Norfolk and Norwich hospital where I underwent an 11-hour operation performed by surely the most handsome team of surgeons (all the nurses agree), and after a short stay in the high-dependency unit I arrived at the wonderful Cley ward for 20 days. I can’t begin to explain my thanks and gratitude to the staff of Cley. My condition was at times frightening and harrowing, but I was cared for with such expertise and vigilance that I have to share my experience and rejoice in the knowledge that their support has meant that I am now walking in my favourite woods again.

It amazes me that I am alive. I fully intend to remain so. Most women in the world do not have access to this level of expertise. Even in the US, on my income, my insurance probably would not have covered the operation and I don’t have a house to re-mortgage or funds to cover this unexpected disease. The x-rays, scans, medication, food, cleaning staff, porters that have been given to me because I’m British leave me speechless. We all know someone who has had a baby, broken an arm or has been seriously ill. Do we consider enough how lucky we are to see our GP for free? I feel immensely proud of Britain for providing a health care service that is brilliant and accessible to all.

I really want to say thank you for the kind way my decrepit body was washed; how, in the middle of the night when I felt overwhelmed, a nurse stopped what she was doing and held my hand; the cake covered in Smarties the catering staff brought me for my birthday; the smiles and jokes with the staff to pass the long days; and Mr Burbos (one of the handsome consultant surgeons) who has been so generous with his time and care. Thank you. I will be supporting the strikes to get better pay for nurses. They are intelligent, helpful, kind people, not money-grabbers. If they say their pay is unfair, I believe them.
Gael Mosesson
Bungay, Suffolk

Independent:

So, Ed Miliband has been briefed, presumably, that cutting public spending is a vote-winner, as he intends to become Tory “lite” and attack the poor and vulnerable (“Miliband vows to wield the axe”, 11 December).

I had thought we might get our caring socialist party back after the Blair betrayal. I had so wanted to vote Labour.

However they are no different from the other careerist, out-of-touch politicians. Where is the bravery and leadership?

Russell Brand is not my cup of tea, but he says what a lot of people think about the corrupt elitist political establishment who are in league with the banks and big business.

I am 51, three children,  working, and reasonably well off financially. Hardly a rebel. I just want a socialist option please, Mr Miliband.

John Spollin

West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

 

All the main political parties are talking about having to make difficult decisions after the next election, but they all seem to be shying away from the most obvious economic solution, lest it should cost them votes: taxes for the lowest paid need to be cut, to help families cope in these straitened times, but the shortfall must be made up by raising taxes for the better off.

It has to be accepted that making a proportional contribution is the price of living in a harmonious and compassionate society.

Tax avoiders and evaders need to be shamed and shunned, their offshore loopholes closed. There is nothing to be gained by tiptoeing around wealthy business people, trying not to upset them in case they skip the country, when the price of their continued patronage is driving our citizens to destitution and wrecking the framework of our society – our NHS, our welfare state, our libraries, schools, fire stations, museums and galleries.

British society is an intricate and fragile ecosystem, founded upon mutual respect and trust. We share a history which has been shaped by great leaders and trade unions, by industry and art, by workers who had a pride and dedication that once made this country the envy of the world, and thanks to which it is the creative, driven, pulsating land that it still is today. Let us hope that our political leaders have the courage and steel to hold firm in the face of these tough times and guide us together through this recession.

Julian Self

Milton Keynes

 

Derek Martin is right (letter, 8 December): tax giveaways when yet more cutbacks are in prospect are madness. Higher direct taxation is inevitable if we are to keep public services at a decent level.

Like Derek Martin, I grew up at a time when it was generally accepted that we all paid our bit in income tax so that health and other public services would be available to all when they needed them. That all changed under Margaret Thatcher. We are now being governed by kids who were still in short trousers in the era of higher income taxes and who clearly believe that a low rate of tax is an inalienable human right, even when public services are at risk of being axed because of the “deficit”.

I would vote for a party that included the following in its manifesto: (1) a modest rise in income tax, except for those unable to afford it; (2) renationalisation of the railway network to make it affordable for all as an alternative to driving; (3) renationalisation of energy supply; (4) an undertaking that this country will play its full part in the EU instead of trying to wriggle out of as many commitments as possible.

Which party will have the nerve – and integrity – to offer all this, I wonder?

Nick Chadwick

Oxford

 

Elegant wasp on the patio table

Michael McCarthy’s article on pests (9 December), recalled for me an occasion some years ago when my late wife and I were on holiday in Provence. We had been eating a lunchtime snack of fingers of toast and smoked salmon with our wine. Our patio table was a huge millstone.

We watched with fascination as a wasp landed and began elegantly snipping away at a sliver of the salmon that had fallen on the stone, working its way around. It took it quite a long time to eat its fill.

I have also seen an example of the brilliant ability of these creatures in making nests. Created entirely of chewed cellulose – paper, wood, cardboard – they out-perform anything made by bees or birds – a symphony of elegant little overlapping arches.

I carefully removed the one built in my garage and took it round to the local village school for the children to study. I hoped it would prove to be a useful educational tool, and the headteacher agreed.

John Scase

Exeter

 

Michael McCarthy’s observation that “there is no morality in nature” is obviously correct. They do what they must to survive. We on the other hand are able to empathise with other lives, whether that “other” is the fox killing for food, the rat being the unfortunate meal, or, dare I say, the Christmas turkey.

Maurice Brett

Bromsgrove, Worcestershire

 

Modest kitchens for the workers

Henrietta Cubitt’s letter (“How the poor have to cook”, 12 December) suggests that “architecture has to take some blame” for the “tiny kitchens” which are to be found in most council accommodation that she knows of. It might be the architecture, but it was not the architects who were to blame.

I was a young architect practising in the 1970s, when many of our current council houses were built, and we all had to follow precisely a set of government-imposed rules, known as Parker Morris standards, which set out the exact maximum areas for all the rooms in such dwellings, including the “tiny” kitchens.

As one who had grown up in a house with a large kitchen, which included a kitchen table on which we ate most of our daily meals (the dining room table only being used for special events), I queried why the Parker Morris standards produced such a small kitchen, with only enough room for cooking. One of the more senior architects told me that the reason was that the authorites wanted to educate the working classes into eating in the dining room, so the kitchens were kept deliberately too small to fit a table into!

David J Williams

Rhos-on-Sea, North Wales

 

Father Christmas does exist

Eric Kaplan is sneerily dismissive of the psychoanalytic take on Father Christmas (The Big Read, 12 December). But as any good Jungian will tell you, Father Christmas is an archetype who does exist – in the mythical layer of consciousness, or the collective unconscious as Jung described it.

In fact the whole Christmas story is redolent with archetypal imagery, imagery which is not confined to Christianity. Dickens, in A Christmas Carol, well understood the liminal experience of the winter solstice as a time when the dead revisit the earth to encourage or warn the living.

Eric Kaplan, however well-meaning, seems to embrace a Gradgrind approach to the world of imagination, and would no doubt reject all of this. Yet the Jungian view allows a parent to assert confidently that, indeed, Father Christmas does exist – but in another dimension of reality, rather than in Harrods’ toy department.

Dr Mary Brown

Banchory, Aberdeenshire

 

Mixed message from the West to Muslims

Have we done the right thing in locking Runa Khan up for five years? Have we not turned this naive woman into a martyr for her cause?

Before we bang up a mother of six children for such a long time perhaps the nation ought to reflect on the mixed messages we have given Muslims. Haven’t we spent the past four years demonising Syria’s Assad regime and sponsoring, through our “allies” Saudi Arabia and Qatar, these very same Islamic jihadis in Syria?

Last year when the British government was planning to bomb Syria, that was not referred to as terrorism. So why is a young Muslim woman encouraging her brothers to go and fight in Syria termed terro

rism?

Perhaps we need a more consistent foreign policy?

Mark Holt

Liverpool

 

Migrants in mortal danger

A heat-seeking camera would have detected the stowaway Ahmed Osman, who died after falling from the undercarriage of a truck. Can we not within the EU make it compulsory for all trucks to be scanned periodically so that stowaways’ lives are not put at risk?

Kartar Uppal

West Bromwich,  West Midlands

 

Hegemony of ignorance

If people like Russell Brand are going to try and be intellectually competent, I do wish they would pronounce “hegemony” properly. It is not pronounced “hedge-a-moany”. Gramsci and Lenin must be turning in their dialectical graves.

R Kimble

Leeds

 

Times:

Sir, Matthew Parris (My Week, Dec 10) should not feel disgust at British and German soldiers playing football on Christmas Day, 1914. Walter Nash, a Grenadier Guards machinegunner who took part in the truce, told me that a current of excitement built up between the men on both sides during the fraternisation in the hope that it might lead to a cancellation of the conflict. Having given his tin of bully beef to one of the enemy and been given a leather belt in return, the German was disappointed that it was the British officers down the line who ordered their men back into the trenches. It was a brief, sad episode, but a small light of humanity in the darkness of war.
Don Shaw
Mickleover, Derbyshire

Sir, Surely the key question about the Christmas truce of 1914 is why did it happen only in that year and not in subsequent ones? Had the spirit of generosity been worn down by yet more months of atrocious warfare, or was there pre-emptive action by commanders to prevent it? It is the non-truces of Christmas 1915-17 that are the most heart-wrenching. Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain Maidenhead Synagogue, Berks

Sir, I have often wondered what would have happened if the British and the Germans had decided to have a return match on Boxing Day and then another on the 27th, then another on the 28th, then on the 29th. It might just have caught on.
Clare Moore
Rustington, W Sussex

Sir, The football match in 1914 was between men who possibly didn’t know where they were, nor why, and didn’t want to kill men of similar backgrounds anyway. The war was essentially a war of failed diplomacy and ordinary soldiers, most of whom had certainly not had the benefit of a broad education, were more interested in football than killing. They were obeying orders next day and the previous days with a refusal to do so leading to an equally horrible outcome. It is proof that the war was a war from above, and if the justification for the killing was “only obeying orders”, then the failed diplomacy was a reprehensible excuse too.
Malcolm Neale
Morden, Surrey

Sir, The soldiers who took part in the game were involved in a vast and messy conflict over which they had no control. Whatever the 21st century does with that occasion, there was no sentimentality in it for them. They were making the best of a bad situation, as were the chaplains, whose job was to provide what spiritual comfort they could. Only a very prejudiced eye could interpret the joining together, in no man’s land, to play a game as a sign of the emerging beast. For me it clearly demonstrates that human sympathy and fellow feeling cannot be destroyed even by the most horrific of circumstances. Would Matthew Parris have preferred it if they had spent Christmas Day polishing their guns and looking forward to the next battle?
Philip McCarthy
Lower Bebington, Wirral

Sir, Matthew Parris asks: “How can you sport with a man whom tomorrow you are going to try to kill?” The question would not baffle most professional soldiers; it would not baffle Wellington or for that matter Achilles. Parris’s muddled sentimentality disguises something very bleak indeed: the wish that the only war should be total war, in which the enemy is dehumanised, a war with no hypocrisy because there are no truces and no surrenders.
Jonathan Rowe
Spalding, Lincs

Sir, The Health Survey for England is not the first representative study to report the incidence of prescribed medication by the British population, as was reported (“The nation hooked on presciption medicines”, Dec 11). In 1984 and 1991, the Health and Lifestyle Study (HALS), which was a stratified representative random sample of 9,003 members of the adult population in Britain, collected such information. In 1984 the number of respondents taking prescribed medications was reported and in 1991, when the majority of the survivors of the study (5,352) were re-surveyed, detailed information was collected on the specific medications taken by the respondents. Our data should enable a comparison to be made with the current report. Of course, one major change would be the prescribing of statins, which were not regularly prescribed at the time of our surveys.
Dr Brian D Cox
Director of the health and lifestyle study, Wolfson College, Cambridge

Sir, While abolishing doctors’ dining areas (letter, Dec 11) reduced the chance of useful contact with medical colleagues, attending the canteen did allow you to line up behind the last patient from the morning clinic and, having strongly advised them to lose weight, watch while they loaded a tray with chips, crumble and custard.
Paul Bryant
(Retired orthopaedic consultant)
Seworgan, Cornwall

Sir, David Aaronovitch (Dec 11) fails to mention that I changed Labour policy on the private sector when I was health secretary. The old system meant that an increasing number of providers dealt with one person’s care. Evidence from around the world tells us that market-based systems cost more, and I am not neutral about who provides NHS services.New rules preferring NHS suppliers were in force when we began the search for new management at Hinchingbrooke hospital. But a private operator was appointed by the coalition 18 months later. Labour believes in the public NHS and we will make it our preferred provider if elected next May.
Andy Burnham
Shadow health secretary

Sir, How unfortunate that a fellow Crowthorne resident seems to have encountered an unrepresentative handful of Wellington College’s pupils (letter, Dec 10). In my view most of the school’s pupils are considerate and thoughtful people from a variety of backgrounds. Moreover, they and their school contribute to this community in wide-ranging ways, including year-round acts of remembrance — led by Sir Anthony Seldon.
Miriam Hutchinson

Crowthorne, Berks

 

Telegraph:

SIR – Stephen Nickell from the Office for Budget Responsibility says that the United Kingdom has “masses of room” for immigrants.

That is quite true. If Scotland was to bring its population density up to that of England it could take another 26.7 million people (on top of its current 5.3 million people). The Highlands of Scotland may be a bit inhospitable but I am sure we could squeeze more people in.

Wales and Northern Ireland could take another 9.2 million between them (on top of their current 4.9 million).

I can’t help thinking that these extra 35.9 million people will put more pressure on the NHS and infrastructure, rather than aiding prosperity.

Simon Moore
Harrow, Middlesex

SIR – To suggest that there is lots of room for immigrants in this country, by citing the acres taken up by Surrey’s golf courses, is to neglect two things about these courses.

First, they do less to mar the wonderful countryside of Surrey than housing estates would, and secondly, if there is a world food shortage they could be ploughed up and used to feed the population. Food security is an issue all political parties appear to ignore, yet with a growing world population and the threat of climate change it seems foolish to assume that we will always be able to import a large portion of our food.

Jenny Knight
London SW12

SIR – Stephen Nickell is reported as saying that 35 per cent of health professionals are migrants. A Freedom of Information request that Get Britain Out placed with the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed migrants make up only 11 per cent of the NHS work force, with migrants from EU countries making up just 4 per cent.

Luke Stanley
Get Britain Out
London SW1

SIR – Charles Moore is in favour of increasing the population as the road to increased prosperity. If only.

As living standards have increased steadily since the industrial revolution, man has ploughed ahead with scant regard for the environment (over-fishing the oceans, decimating the rainforests, increasing air pollution and provoking climate change). Environmentalists would argue that, by continuing to do this we are rapidly reaching the point beyond which there will be irreparable damage to our planet.

We have witnessed, in recent decades, ever smaller houses on bigger estates served by ever more congested streets. So while increasing the population may be beneficial for the immediate prosperity of the middle classes, increased materialism will not necessarily equate to a better quality of life for those at the bottom of the social ladder. People need space.

Mike Wheeler
Alverstoke, Hampshire

Britain east of Suez

SIR – Con Coughlin (Comment, December 8) is right to describe the Wilson government’s decision in 1968 to withdraw British forces from “east of Suez” as disastrous. The decision upset not just the Gulf states but four key allies in the Far East – Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore – all of which had given invaluable support to Wilson in his efforts to resolve the toxic Rhodesia problem. Britain could instead have saved money by scrapping its spurious and expensive “independent” nuclear deterrent.

John Webster
London SW1

Unwelcome best friend

SIR – I, too, have been asked to be more discreet and moved away from the front of a restaurant (near the window) to the rear of the dining area (in a corner, away from others) (“Adopting a Victorian attitude to breastfeeding”, Letters, December 8). I was doing nothing untoward – in fact, I was not the “problem”. I had with me my assistance dog and, although he is small and very well behaved, I was told it would be bad for business if the public could see the dog through the large front window.

There are several kinds of assistance dog – mine is a hearing dog – and each type is necessary. Having an assistance dog should not make a person feel like a less valued customer. Being moved is embarrassing.

Donald B Sharpe
Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire

A cut above

SIR – You suggest that the Duke of Cambridge wore trousers three inches too short in New York. In the accompanying picture, he is seen struggling through wind and heavy rain with an umbrella which keeps him dry down to the waist, maybe, but would do nothing for his trousers. As they got saturated, they would obviously have stuck to his legs and ridden up as he walked, assisted by the wind.

Wendy Breese
Lingfield, Surrey

SIR – Prince William, being a perfect gentleman, is no doubt wearing his trousers short to fit in with the American males who invariably wear theirs above the ankle.

Now home, he will return to his usual elegance.

Pamela Thomas
St Albans, Hertfordshire

North Sea oil bank

SIR – Given the low oil prices and their projected further fall, why doesn’t Britain conserve its dwindling supplies of oil in the North Sea by leaving it there against the time when prices once again increase?

John Jukes
Bosherston, Pembrokeshire

SIR – What price Scottish oil now?

Charles Manby
Lincoln

SIR – Kevin Daly of Goldman Sachs has said that the price of a litre of petrol could fall to almost £1 if oil prices stay low. Should that not be “should” fall?

Don Haines
Telford, Shropshire

SIR – It would be wrong to demonise diesel power in areas of much lower traffic density than London. In most of Britain, lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by diesel cars make them a better choice for the longer journeys required.

Phil Walker
Spital, Wirral

Arbitrary arrest

SIR – I wonder if the long list of worthy people who signed the letter commemorating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are aware that its ninth article, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”, is flatly contradicted by the European Arrest Warrant.

Arrest and detention without any evidence being produced, is clearly arbitrary. This is common practice in the jurisdictions with Napoleonic-inquisitorial systems, which are prevalent among Britain’s EU partners. Mere suspicion, based on clues, is enough.

Italian criminal procedure, for example, provides that “serious and concordant clues” are grounds for arrest and lengthy imprisonment, with no right to any public hearing while the authorities seek hard evidence against the prisoner.

The European Arrest Warrant is based on the mistaken assumption that the legal systems of all EU states operate as fairly as our own, in particular regarding this matter of evidence. If such a warrant is received, no British court is allowed to ask to see evidence against the suspect. It must simply truss him up and ship him over.

The Lisbon Treaty left Britain the option of staying opted out, so reconfirming the European Arrest Warrant was voluntary, indeed wanton. It cannot now be revoked without leaving the EU completely. Is it one of the powers that David Cameron intends to “claw back” in his vaunted future “renegotiation” strategy? Presumably not.

Torquil Dick-Erikson
Rome

Tragic comic


SIR – The European Commission has relaunched its very own cartoon strip, Captain Euro. This “instant media sensation in the 1990s” is back to promote EU brand identity with new adventures for Captain Euro and his band of Euro warriors. The latest episode is about David Cameron and the “F word” (for Federal).

I wonder what future episodes could help our friends in Brussels to give Captain Euro a long and enjoyable future.

Richard Elsy
Carlisle, Cumbria

Husbands are not to be trusted with Christmas

Deck the halls: ‘Preparation for Christmas’, by Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin, 1896

SIR – The easiest way to avoid marital friction over Christmas is to ensure one’s husband is excluded from all preparations, except possibly peeling the potatoes.

On Christmas Day, my spouse presents me with a gift that my daughter has reminded him to buy (and almost certainly has purchased on his behalf), opens a bottle of wine and reaches for the carving knife – one of the few skills I have failed to master in 42 years of marriage.

I doubt he even knows where I keep the Christmas lights (Letters, December 11).

Hilary Jarrett
Norwich

SIR – At the end of my first Christmas with my boyfriend’s parents, I was directed to a mountain of tree lights on the floor, handed eight cardboard and polystyrene sleeves, and told to put the lights away. We are still married, 22 years later.

Alice Beukers
Singapore

SIR – I am executor for an elderly neighbour. Although I wrote to everyone in her address book when she died a few months ago, some Christmas cards have arrived for her and I have no way of contacting the senders because they have not included their return addresses.

Philip Dunn
Guildford, Surrey

SIR – Am I the only one who cannot understand why people send cards at Christmas reading “Season’s greetings” or “Happy holidays”?

They don’t send them in the summer, when most people take holidays. I only send cards with Christmas messages, otherwise I fail to understand the point.

Veronica Bliss
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – Jo Marchington (Letters, December 10) is lucky that her daughter was cast as a tree in her school Christmas play.

Years ago my three-year-old told me with great excitement that she had a role in her nativity play.

Me: “Well, done! Are you Mary?”

Daughter: “No, Mummy.”

“A shepherd?”

“No, Mummy!”

Me, puzzled: “What then, darling?”

Daughter : “A child!”

Of course, she acted her part perfectly.

Veronica Timperley
London W1

SIR – I was about to spread some Cornish Blue on my cream cracker when I noticed it was inviting me to “Have a cool yule”.

Is everyone being similarly addressed by their food this festive season?

Nigel Milliner
Tregony, Cornwall

Irish Times:

Sir, – Can the ESRI explain the contradiction between its reports published in July and December of this year (“Unemployed worst affected by budgets, says ESRI report”, December 12th)?

In the July report The Distribution of Income and the Public Finances, which covers the years 2008 to 2012, it states that “the fiscal options chosen by successive governments have contributed to an outcome where inequality in the distribution of income has fallen”. The successive governments referred to are the present Government and the government of 2007 to 2012. The December report The Distributional Impact of Taxes Welfare and Public Service Policies: Budget 2015 and Budgets 2009 – 2015 finds the outcome of the budgets regressive.

The latest report contains a contradiction within the report itself when it states that the impact of Budget 2015 was “close to neutral” and in the same paragraph that it was “clearly regressive”. It later goes on to state that the results for budgets 2009 to 2015 are “too complex to be characterised as either progressive, regressive or proportional”. That old joke about how many economists it takes to change a light bulb comes to mind. – Yours, etc,

JOANNA TUFFY, TD

Leinster House,

Dublin 2 .

Sir, – The acknowledgement by dietician Paula Mee ( Health & Family, December 9th) that dietary saturated fats do not belong to the class of “bad fats” is a timely and welcome reversal of long-standing anti-fat, anti-cholesterol dogma.

Fearsome warnings about the “cholesterol-raising” potential of saturated fats fail to recognise the scientifically proven heart-healthy properties of saturated fats such as butter, eggs, cheese, animal fats and tropical oils.

These health-supporting fats have been vilified for many years by supporters of the traditional food pyramid, the observance of which has served to promote an excess of carbohydrate consumption, and a minimal intake of saturated fats.

The folly of this advice is evident in our visible escalation of obesity, diabetes and heart disease over the past decade.

The real culprits underlying our present explosion of chronic disease are commercially produced trans-fats, processed polyunsaturated fats, and an excess of carbohydrates and sugar intake, all ubiquitous in the traditional dietary habits of our nation. To confuse these unhealthy fats with saturated fats serves to mislead the public in matters of healthy dietary choices.

The acknowledgement by a leading dietician that our traditional food policy has long been misguided is refreshingly welcome, and can only serve the best health interests of our nation.– Yours, etc,

DR NEVILLLE S WILSON,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – In common with others, I was horrified by what I saw on Prime Time. This is not a training or staffing level issue; we could see that there were enough staff, and a kind schoolchild could do a better job of looking after these women than the nurses and Fetac-qualified assistants there, because it is kindness that matters, not qualifications. My elderly mother has home carers who are recently qualified but have been doing the job successfully for years beforehand, and they are so kind and wonderful to her. Maybe the qualification helps with paperwork and first aid training but if they were not kind and caring people, no amount of training would help. You need to start by hiring and training people who are patient and kind and then you have a hope of getting it right. I was also horrified to hear the HSE spokesperson speak of apologising to the relatives. I’d like them to apologise to the women who were abused. – Yours, etc,

IRENE FENELON,

Enniskerry,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – We have allowed the care of vulnerable people of all ages in a range of environments to become, to a considerable extent, a minimum wage job, with all that implies.

Are we entitled to demand high standards of these workers when we offer them poor pay, little or no career development, low status and no respect? – Yours, etc,

MAEVE KENNEDY,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – The debate on the property tax and local services is missing the main point of the tax. After the property bubble burst in 2008 the country’s tax and spend policies came unstuck. The government’s income declined rapidly and it found itself in grave need of additional sources of revenue. The tax was one such source. It was marketed to the Irish people as a tax for local council-run services, but it is more similar to motor tax – it is a tax that goes into central funds and is distributed from there. Councils receive the local government fund general purpose grant from central government, of which a portion comes from the proceeds of the local property tax. We can debate all we want about where our property tax should go, which council areas are subsidising others, and which are getting more services than others, but in effect, it is a tax raised to reduce the overall level of government borrowings, not a direct attempt to fund all council services from locally raised taxes. – Yours, etc,

PAUL DEVER,

Swords,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Steven Long (December 10th) makes the point that in relation to local government services, all households should be supplied equally, and all services supplied equally.

It should be noted that under the local property tax (LPT) framework, all householders are not charged equally; those who live in towns and cities are charged substantially more LPT than those who live in rural Ireland. This inequality is compounded further when the average size of a dwelling in urban and rural areas is considered. In addition, the Government applies an “equalisation” process to the distribution of LPT funds paid by householders in the Dublin city area. Of LPT payments made by householders in Dublin city, €16.5 million was distributed to rural areas.

Finally, the Government further directed that €49.5 million of LPT payments collected from Dublin householders be used to replace existing Government grants for capital purposes. This money could not be spent on providing the services referenced by Mr Long. Equality must apply to all aspects – for all householders, cities, towns and rural dwellers alike. – Yours, etc,

Cllr RUAIRI MCGINLEY,

Chairman,

Finance and Emergency

Services Strategic

Policy Committee,

Dublin City Council.

Sir, – In July I was in Mongu in western Zambia, where Concern is supporting people to move out of poverty. I spoke to Mushimbei Mwendabai. Concern gives her 30 kwachas a month – €3. It allows her build up a little head of steam, buy and sell her produce and send her older child to school. Liam Kavanagh (28) from Coolock is working on the project. I asked him what he plans to do in the future. His reply was “I can’t see myself doing anything else”.

Concern is working with the most vulnerable families in 27 of the world’s poorest and most neglected countries. Whether they are caught up in poverty, war, conflict or even the deadly Ebola virus, our teams are providing immediate assistance and helping people get back on their feet. And this work is only possible because of the support of people in Ireland such as the readers of The Irish Times, who through their extraordinary generosity have supported our work over the years. At our peril can we take that support for granted.

For every euro Concern receives, 90.4 cent goes directly to the work in the field. In early December we won two awards in excellence in financial reporting in Ireland.

I am conscious that many people have little spare cash and yet they are willing to support the poorest of the poor in the countries where we are working. For that I say thank you and wish you a joyful and happy Christmas and new year. – Yours, etc,

DOMINIC MacSORLEY,

Chief Executive Officer,

Concern Worldwide,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – I disagree with Nick Strong’s call (December 12th) for a merger of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. What Ireland requires urgently is for the many talented younger TDs and Senators in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour to form a new centrist party – and leave the old fogies behind. – Yours, etc,

DECLAN FOLEY,

Berwick, Australia.

Sir, – Might Dick Spring’s concept of a “rotating Taoiseach” finally come to fruition? That question may be answered sooner than we think. – Yours, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I do realise that this is the season for giving, but I do feel that charities are going a little over the top at present. I have monthly standing orders for three good causes, but at this point I have nine requests in from varying charities looking for money for varying reasons. One of them wanted €150 as a basic donation. In our local church we have a monthly collection for St Vincent de Paul; no problems with that. Last Sunday, we were told that next Sunday we would have the annual Christmas collection; again, no problems. My problem is that the very next day I received a request in the post from St Vincent de Paul looking for more money. I am a pensioner and cannot reply to all of these charitable requests with what they expect from me. I do appreciate that they are all attempting to do great work, but I am terribly sorry that I cannot fulfil all that they expect me to do. It is a terrible thing to say but this time of the year is charity overkill ! – Yours, etc,

BRIAN D BYRNES,

Sutton, Dublin 13.

Sat, Dec 13, 2014, 01:06

Sir, – When the same limited number of names recur in reviews on radio and in the print media and the same book titles crop up in the end of year lists, Eileen Battersby’s choices stand out. Her reviews throughout the year serve to expand our horizons and introduce our conservative reading habits to new names. My shelves are lined with authors I would never have heard of if it weren’t for her recommendations. Nobody should be “put off”, as Alison McCoy (December 6th) was, by translations. – Yours, etc,

JENNIFER RYAN,

Kanturk, Co Cork.

Sir, – From one Alison to another, I have to tell Ms McCoy that I find nearly all Eileen Battersby’s recommendations well worth reading. Who says that only those who write in English have valid and valuable ideas? Thanks to Ms Battersby I have read and enjoyed books by Joseph Roth, Hans Fallada, Stephan Zweig and many others. I would consider it a dereliction of duty if a literary correspondent did not suggest such authors, as they are so intrinsically important. – Yours, etc,

ALISON BADRIAN,

Kilbeggan,

Co Westmeath.

Sir, – If the Government backbenchers are correct in their assessment of the demographic of the protesters, ie mainly Sinn Féin and hard-left supporters, it should concern them that in mid-December, these parties are able to convince so many people to travel to Dublin.

If these left-leaning individuals are that committed, it must be a worry to the Government parties.

Perhaps the Government TDs are incorrect; however, if they’re not, it doesn’t augur well for them in the next general election. The next opinion poll will be very interesting. – Yours, etc,

MARTIN O’NEILL,

Waterford.

Sir, – Perhaps it is time for some divine inspiration in relation to additional funding for our museums. Some years ago when in Rome and the Vatican, we took the opportunity to visit many of the landmark churches there.

While entrance to the churches was free (though not into the Vatican museums), the church authorities introduced a rather clever wheeze – in gloomier parts of the churches, one puts a coin in a slot and, presto, famous works of art are illuminated for about one minute. This has a two-pronged result; the works of art are not exposed to harmful levels of light over long periods and, equally important, it gives visitors the option of deciding what objects they wish to view in detail, or not.

Now there’s an idea for the National Museum of Ireland to chew on over Christmas. – Yours, etc,

PATRICK JUDGE,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I have just come from a visit to a patient in hospital. On the way in, I met an elderly man in a dressing gown and woollen hat, leaning on a walking frame and having a smoke.

The weather was as bad as it gets and a loudspeaker was blaring out in Irish and English “This is a no smoking area”.

If this represents the compassion and care of the do-good administrators then I will eat my hat. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL O’MARA,

Patrickswell, Co Limerick.

Sir, – Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to purchase gifts for my family in Ireland, and I’ve made the effort to seek out Irish merchants, where possible. The internet should make this a straightforward proposition, but unfortunately I’ve been prevented from spending my money in Ireland on more than one occasion by websites that will only accept credit cards that have an Irish or British billing address. Three times this week I’ve tried to pay for items from Irish merchants, only to be turned away when I go to the online checkout.

It’s often cheaper to order from UK merchants, even with higher delivery charges. Now it’s easier as well. – Yours, etc,

AENGUS LAWLOR,

East Norriton,

Pennsylvania.

Sir, – It seems to have become a tradition for those who can still afford to go elsewhere to take advantage of the silence of Christmas Day to remind their neighbours of their great luck by allowing their burglar alarms to ring non-stop until December 27th at least. The lack of enforcement of token noise pollution laws helps with this.

It remains to be seen if the tradition continues this year. – Yours, etc,

CHRISTIAN MORRIS,

Howth,

Dublin 13.

Irish Independent:

Thirty seconds. Thirty precious seconds – that’s all the time I had last Christmas morning between hearing my smoke alarm and having to get out before my house went up in flames.

I was in the shower. It was 11.20 am. I was alone. Everyone was gone to Mass.

I timed it later – 30 seconds. But for the smoke alarm, I’d have been trapped in the bathroom. Others, the same day, in Ireland and Scotland, were not so fortunate: they died in their house fires.

Smoke alarms can be annoying: for example going off during a fry-up when the door from the kitchen to the hall is left open. “Switch off that smoke alarm, for God’s sake. Take out the battery and leave it out,” and so on.

Two weeks before my narrow escape from death, my grandson, Adam, had remarked: “Granda, your smoke alarm is beeping; you need to put in a new battery.” I said I’d see to it. But I didn’t. Adam himself got the new battery after a few days, and put it in.

So I wish everyone a happy Christmas, and maybe getting a smoke alarm, or checking the one you have, may ensure that it really is happy!

Joe Conroy

Naas, Co Kildare

Animals deserve compassion

A homeless man dies on a morgue-cold Dublin street, residents of a residential care home are manhandled by dullards and Christmas is about to be celebrated in a fugue of alcohol while people remain emotionally clamped to consumerism.

What is happening to Irish society? A seam of callousness has opened, revealing a disconnection of feeling and understanding for those adrift from our normal functional world. Self-interest has rendered the tenets of caring and acting in a compassionate manner obsolete.

This coarsening of life in Ireland is brought into sharp focus at Christmas time, when in this Christian and supposedly civilised country there will be widespread cruelty inflicted on wild animals over the Christmas holiday season.

No Christmas respite is given to wildlife by bloodsports followers.

Despite the displays of support for those who reside on the fringes of society, the core of Irish society is hollow. As a nation we have all but all given up on really caring – as opposed to charity-induced caring – for the human and non-human members of our society that need respect, financial support and the reach of a helping hand.

The thought and deed of kindness is in fear of dying in Irish society. The emotional connection to another person and to the non-human members of our society has been unplugged.

John Tierney

Waterford

New party season

The 19th century bosses in Fine Gael appear to be stuck in the zombie zone, the Fianna Fail leadership is unable to raise its flagging spirits, and Labour faces a slow walk to the gallows. Now is the appropriate time for the young Turks sitting on the backbenches of these three out-of-date parties to form a new Centrist party. Time for the visionaries to stand out from the followers.

Declan Foley

Berwick, Australia

State contempt for people clear

I attended the water tax protest in Dublin on Wednesday. I wanted to do so in order to canvass the Government in relation to its unjust establishment of this tax.

Alas, I could not, as not only could I not stand at their gate – I was even prohibited from walking on their street. Never before have I witnessed a Government with such a physical contempt for its people.

Soon they will come to my door, to canvass me before the next election and – while I would never display my indignation – they will leave without my vote. The Government achieved only one thing on Wednesday – the reaffirmation in many not to pay the water tax.

John Scully,

Co Kildare

Last Wednesday I took part in the national anti-water charges protest in Dublin. It was my first anti-water charges protest and I will not be taking part in any further protests, in Dublin at least

The actions of the few who took part in actions which left a garda hospitalised and blocked roads only alienate ordinary Dubliners who may be sympathetic to the cause but cannot do their daily business, such as travelling home from work.

I believe in people’s right to protest but there is a sinister element to the anti water charges protests I do not wish to be associated with.

Tommy Roddy

Galway

Where’s the accountability?

I have just come from a visit to a patient in a hospital in this county.

On the way in I met an elderly man in a dressing gown and woollen hat with a walking frame. He was having a smoke.

The weather was as bad as it gets and a loudspeaker was blasting out – in Irish and English – “This is a no-smoking area.”

If this represents the compassion and care of the do-good administrators then I will eat my hat.

Nobody can object to the control of smoking where it affects others, but we are being overruled by numerous assertive quangos with no accountability.

Michael O’Mara

Patrickswell, Limerick

Time to bin the bailout

I – an English blow-in to Trinity College Dublin in 1968 – wish to congratulate the good-humoured, but hard-pressed Irish public for a spirited and peaceful protest (as we all expected) on Wednesday.

In my view, the array of gardai and dogs lined up on Kildare Street to protect the TDs (cowering) in Leinster House was unnecessary, provocative and a waste (to add to the many examples of waste) of public money.

May I suggest that Irish politicians now take note of this massive but peaceful public protest? Their duty is to the Irish people, not to foreign bankers. The bailout is morally indefensible, and we shall never be able to afford it.

Give the money instead to the homeless and the many in need. It’s quite simple, really. Not at all rocket science. But it requires courage and integrity.

Dr Gerald Morgan

Trinity College, Dublin 2

Dread of a reggae Christmas

Finding my ears assaulted by ‘upbeat’ /’reggae’ reworkings of traditional Christmas tunes prompts me to proclaim: come back Dean Martin and Andy Williams – all is forgiven.

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

Action needed on Syria

I applaud the Irish Independent for shining a light on the plight of Syrian refugees, especially children. Children are always the casualties of war.

The civil war in Syria has been pitiless and unrelenting. Children have been forced to flee their homes; endure unspeakable agony amidst the utter ruins of their apartments; compelled to witness the destruction of lives and livelihoods and to live their life in desolation and destitution in refugee camps.

But – apart from being killed, maimed and wounded – the lack of food, clean water and warn shelters puts children at an increased risk of diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria, malnutrition and other psychological and emotional disorders. They also fall prey to sexual exploitation, violence, rapes and forced marriages.

This is the worst humanitarian disaster unravelling before our eyes in the 21st century. The international community must show its unequivocal support for children in need, treat their festering wounds and assist countries such as Jordan, which valiantly shoulders the tremendous burden of the refugee crisis despite its meagre resources.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London

Irish Independent

GP

December 12, 2014

12 December 2014 GP

I still have arthritis in my left toe I am stricken with gout. But I manage to get out to the GP, shr proscribed something for my gout.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up duck for tea and her tummy pain is still there.

Obituary:

NJ Dawood, translator of The Koran into English

NJ Dawood

NJ Dawood, who has died aged 87, was a translator whose English language version of The Koran, first published by Penguin in 1956, remains a classic and has never been out of print.

When it appeared in the bookshops, few people in the English-speaking world had even heard of The Koran. Previous translations had been so archaic and literal as to be virtually unreadable. Dawood set out to produce a modern translation that would be readily accessible to an uninitiated readership.

To this end he rearranged the original surahs (chapters) into more or less chronological order, to make them easier to understand, in line with the approach taken by the Jewish rabbis and Christian scholars who compiled the biblical canon. At the same time his lively, idiomatic English translation aimed to bring out the poetic beauty and eloquent rhetoric of the Arabic original, giving the reader some sense of why the work has had such power over generations of Muslims.

In his later revisions Dawood reverted to the traditional sequence of the surahs, and he worked constantly to improve, refine and revise the text. His translation was reprinted more than 70 times in several revised editions, most recently in May this year.

Nessim Joseph Dawood was born in Baghdad on August 27 1927 into an Iraqi-Jewish family. His father was a merchant who had served as an officer in the Ottoman army. Nessim’s skills as a translator developed at school, when his Arabic renderings of English short stories were published in Iraqi newspapers.

On leaving school in 1944, he was awarded an Iraqi state scholarship to London University, which had been evacuated from the capital during the war. He therefore studied for degrees in English Literature and Arabic at the University College of the South West, in Exeter.

After graduating, he worked briefly as an English teacher and as a journalist, while toying with the idea of translating Shakespeare into Arabic.

His life took a different turn, however, after he attended a talk by E V Rieu, the translator of The Iliad and The Odyssey and founding editor of the Penguin Classics series. Rieu spoke of a new approach to translation which sought to capture the spirit of the original text and was not just about accuracy but about good writing.

Dawood immediately wrote to Rieu enclosing the prologue to The Thousand And One Nights that he had translated into English from the original Arabic. In the next post he received a letter offering him a contract.

NJ Dawood

His first translation, The Thousand and One Nights: The Hunchback, Sindbad and Other Tales, was published in 1954 and was so effortlessly fluent that readings and dramatic adaptations were broadcast on BBC radio, recorded by Terence Tiller. A further selection, Aladdin and Other Tales, was published in 1957, also in the Penguin Classics series. In 1973 both books were combined into a single volume, which remains in print.

After publication of The Koran, Dawood enrolled at University College London for a PhD in English, but had to abandon his studies after six months when he could not afford to continue. Instead he began working as a commercial translator, and in 1959 founded his own company, the Arabic Advertising and Publishing Company (now Aradco VSI).

The Middle East was just beginning to develop as a market for Western products and services, and he applied his skills to the translation of advertising copy and other literature for a wide variety of consumer products, including tea, pharmaceuticals, cars and defence equipment.

For some products, Arabic, as an ancient language, did not have the necessary vocabulary, and Dawood played a key role in guiding its engagement with the modern world, coining new words and contributing to specialised dictionaries.

At the same time, Dawood taught himself to create complex hand-drawn artwork, inspired by Arabic calligraphic traditions. He and his colleagues produced designs for Middle Eastern coins, currency, postage stamps, passports and brand logos. He also recorded voice-overs and commentaries for Arabic radio and television.

In Britain, Dawood became a trusted resource for the Ministry of Defence and other government departments in their dealings with the region, and played a central, if unsung, role in helping British exporters at a crucial point in Britain’s relationship with the Arabic-speaking world.

Dawood’s other publications include the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, which he edited and abridged for Princeton University Press, and children’s versions of the Nights for the Puffin Classics series. He also wrote book reviews and literary articles for The Times.

In the late 1970s Dawood bought a house near Stratford-upon-Avon in order to be close to the theatre. In 1948, as a guest of the British Council, he had attended the official Shakespeare’s birthday celebrations and luncheon in the town. In 2011, attending another commemorative lunch as the oldest surviving guest of that post-war event, he gave a lively account of those earlier celebrations, that season’s productions at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and recalled meeting the young Claire Bloom and Alfie Bass in the theatre bar .

Nessim Dawood married, in 1949, Juliet Abraham, who survives him with their three sons.

NJ Dawood, born August 27 1927, died November 20 2014

Guardian:

Man with peg on nose
‘It’s incumbent on all of us to vote in whichever way is most likely to avoid the disaster of a Tory government – with clothes pegs on noses if necessary,’ writes Ian Soady. Photograph: Getty Images

Polly Toynbee highlights what she sees as some of the key differences between Labour and the Tories (Ignore the flaws. For only Labour can beat the Tories, 9 December). We think it is easier and even more informative to highlight some of the similarities. After all, it was Labour who introduced hospital trusts, compulsory competitive tendering in the NHS and academy schools. Arguably, the coalition has simply built its policies on the NHS and education on foundations laid down by Labour.

Perhaps more importantly, Labour, like the Tories, has signed up to the austerity agenda, including the coalition’s spending cap and 2015-16 spending plans. So, like the Tories, Labour will pursue policies that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the less well-off. Moreover, given the straitjacket of the political funding system, the lobbying industry and the globalisation of decision-making, as described by George Monbiot (There is an alternative, 8 December), the similarities between the two parties are likely to become greater over the life of the next parliament, rather than to decrease. This same straitjacket also places a large questionmark over Labour’s proposed £30bn leeway in spending that Polly takes as a given.

We also read the polls differently. In our view it is not escapism to hope that tactical voting might lead to a Labour-led coalition with the SNP and the Greens. If so, we might even hope that the latter two parties will provide enough backbone for Labour to support policies that benefit the less well-off at the expense of the wealthy. Unlike Polly, we are not inclined to trust a Labour government to do this – especially after what happened the last three times we took them on trust.
Lucy Craig and Gordon Best
London

• No need for Polly to write a long article to convince me to vote Labour. It is the only alternative. But she can’t stop me from being disappointed with the weakness of the opposition to Osborne’s cuts.

Why does it fall to the OECD (Report, 9 December) to make a case for the total failure of the coalition’s economic policy? The failure is obvious to anyone who takes a look at our town centres. The only economic growth you’ll see is in the form of pound shops and pawnbrokers. You can’t do a cost-benefit analysis on the cuts, but you don’t need to be an expert to do a “harm-saving analysis” showing a lot of harm done with very little saving. Here in one of the richest countries in the world, it seems we can’t afford libraries, countryside services, road repairs, or even to look after the most vulnerable properly, but quite a lot of us can have more and more expensive cars, for example. The Tories have used the financial crisis as an excuse for doing all the nasty things they’ve wanted to do for years.
Steve Lupton
Manchester

• The Labour party is far from perfect but voting for parties which may align more with our preferences could result in another Tory government, which is a luxury we cannot afford. It’s incumbent on all of us to vote in whichever way is most likely to avoid that disaster – with clothes pegs on noses if necessary. If the Tories should form another government, anyone who has allowed that to happen through misguided sensitivity should be forced to stand outside their nearest food bank and apologise personally to the queue.
Ian Soady
Birmingham

• I hope Polly Toynbee is right when she claims that Labour would be able to avoid £30bn of Osborne’s £48bn of cuts, though even that raises the question of why to cut further. Austerity has gone too far. Labour has no plausible strategy I can see to pay for the better society she rightly wants.

For five years the burden has fallen almost entirely on the young, the least privileged and lower-skilled workers. Top pay, bonus culture and wealth are all out of control. A chief executive of British Gas who met his targets was offered the chance of earning 1,000 times the £13,500 that the minimum wage offers those lucky enough to get full-time work. So isn’t the answer tax increases, and looking at wealth taxes on property and inheritance?

In 1919 a Conservative government raised the funds to pay off the debts from the Great War with inheritance taxes, according to the recent BBC series Long Shadow by David Reynolds. Royalty excluded, it resulted in the break-up of many of the aristocracy’s estates. Labour needs similar guts and a strategy that convinces.
Brian Corbett
Swansea

• How often must a Labour government disappoint before Polly Toynbee will accept they are a lost cause? Voting Labour to keep Cameron and Osborne out will not give the country what it needs – a progressive government committed to the welfare state, an ethical foreign policy, responsible capitalism, equality and respect for the environment. These are central to the Green party’s “moral crusade”.

True, our undemocratic voting system could produce a Tory-led government committed to further savage cuts to services on which the most vulnerable people in our society rely. Contrary to what Toynbee says, this will not be irreparable. But it will require a more principled party to make the repairs, and brave enough to challenge the wealthy and powerful.
Derek Heptinstall
Secretary, Thanet Green party

• Polly Toynbee suggests Britain should embrace proportional representation. In Australian elections, it has been a continual nightmare. PR is used in upper house elections in most states and for the Australian senate. More than a year after a national election, no political party in the Senate has a working majority, and some provisions of this year’s budget either have not been passed by the house or have been abandoned by the Abbot government of the lower house. The transition to PR in the legislative council in New South Wales resulted, initially, in a ballot paper nicknamed the Tablecloth – there were so many candidates. Subsequently, political parties have run a form of party ticket, which negates the freedom of choice implicit in PR.

PR would make the entire UK a single electorate. Presumably the ballot paper wouldn’t be so much a tablecloth as a circus tent. It eliminates single-member constituencies, which raises the interesting question of where voters should go to seek the kind of redress and advice they now get from their local MPs. Whether a parliament of members elected in this way would have the authority of comprehensive review over the bureaucracy that it has at the present is open to conjecture. The island state Tasmania, which embraced PR for all its elections, also created a hydro-power authority (HEC) with wideranging powers. It has been viewed as a law unto itself ever since its inception.
Michael Rolfe
Brighton

• I’ve been faithful follower of Margaret Drabble through the years (You’ve lost my vote, Ed, if you kowtow to private education, 5 December). But how can we expect change if we abandon the one possibility of stopping the present march to an unfair and calamitous world in the UK? Oh, Margaret, how could you? Fight for fairness from within – don’t destroy our only hope.
Mary Drinan (now 80)
Ruyton-XI-Towns, Shropshire

I vote in south Cambridgeshire. Even if we had had AV, and I had voted Green with Labour as second preference, it would have made no difference: I would still have got Andrew Lansley – and next year I shall get his successor.

If Polly Toynbee wants a fairer system, she should consider the single bankable vote, in which unsuccessful candidates can bank their votes for next time round, spending them when they get voted in. Candidates bank votes at a rate that is a reasonable measure of their relative popularity, which will be reflected in the frequency with which they are elected. Even relatively unpopular candidates will get elected eventually, though there are ways of preventing the outer fringes from getting that far.

The system can be run exactly as now: one voter, one vote, and first past the post. The only difference is noting the votes for losing candidates, something that is known already. It’s simple and fair.
Tim Gossling
Cambridge

We’re not even into 2015 yet and already Polly Toynbee’s pulling out the electoral nose peg. Sorry, been there, done that – most notably at the last general election. It was obvious to anyone with even a shred of political instinct where the Tories intended to take us in the wake of the shambolic meltdown brought about by their pals in high finance. Sadly, this seemed lost on many, including the Guardian, which was embarrassingly seduced by the hollow men of the Lib Dems. Now you advise us to vote for a party that accepts the same ruinous austerity narrative and proposes its continuation but with less spiky edges.

The only way to bring about the end of the rotten politics you lament is to undermine the traditional beneficiaries of the system and their cohorts – and that includes establishment-lite Labour. So I won’t be voting for Ed and his crew next May.
Colin Montgomery
Edinburgh

Like Polly Toynbee, I am no tribal Labourite, but recognise that the realities of our electoral system mean that anyone wishing to avoid the nightmare of a majority Conservative government must vote anti-Tory next May and return a Labour government.

It is interesting though, how popular and attractive the Green party now looks for left-of-centre social democrats. Under PR, the Greens would surely not only win a significant number of MPs, but possibly play a part in government. Caroline Lucas as, say, environment secretary looks a very enticing prospect and perhaps one that Ed Miliband should consider, even if he does achieve a low-vote majority. Sadly, though, in most cases, a vote for the Greens will surely be a wasted vote. Anyone tempted, perhaps exasperated by the complacency and downright cowardice of Labour policy, yet desperate to avoid the Cameron horror show, must indeed don the proverbial nose peg, in order to return Labour to power.

In 1906, the Liberal party won a landslide victory while fledgling Labour returned six MPs. Less than 20 years later, Labour was in government and the Liberals had been reduced to a rump. There may be great times ahead for the Greens, but in May 2015 we must stick with the past in order to avoid a wholly unpalatable future.
Brian Wilson
Glossop, Derbyshire

I’m confused about Ed Miliband supposedly rejecting the Iraq war. It can’t be the UK’s continuing bombing of Iraq, because he voted for this. And I’m not aware of him making any significant public statement in 2002 or 2003, the crucial time to speak out, against the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Seriously misjudging the depth of anger among the public, he did make a semi-apology in 2010, though this was obviously an attempt to consolidate support behind his new leadership and an early electioneering move. All of these are hardly the actions of what the Polly Toynbee calls “a decent man”.
Ian Sinclair
London

Ed may also like to consider fewer public appearances with Justine Thornton (Letters, 9 December). Ordinary working people do not, by and large, walk around hand in hand with their partners looking happy. The leaders of the Greens, SNP, Ukip and others seem to have recognised this fact and seen their support surge as a result.
Peter Newell
Colchester

Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning. A call for her release will be made in London on 17 December. Photograph: AP

Martin Pengelly’s article (8 December) on the denial of Chelsea Manning’s transgender rights rightly argues that it has become a “cause celebre for transgender rights in the military and even worldwide”. Chelsea has become one of the world’s best-known whistleblowers. Not only the LGBTQ movement but also the anti-war, anti-racist, anti-rape and anti-zionist movements have organised actions in 10 cities so far – from Berlin to Vancouver, San Francisco and Istanbul – to mark Chelsea’s birthday on 17 December. Since we have all benefited from her whistleblowing, we have a responsibility to get her out. In London, we will stand at St Martin-in-the-Fields, from 2.30pm to back her transgender rights and demand her release. All are welcome.
Didi Rossi Queer Strike
Ben Martin Payday Men’s Network

Stagecoach double decker bus by bus stop in Manchester city centre UK
A Stagecoach bus in Manchester. ‘On average every bus that leaves the depot has a 50% public subsidy.’ Photograph: Alamy

Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach does not want Manchester or Newcastle to benefit from a London-style franchising system for their buses (Free bus travel comes at a cost – Stagecoach, 11 December). Since bus services were deregulated outside London in the mid-1980s, bus companies have exploited the travelling public by making twice the rate of return on capital employed in the regions as on London operations. It is not surprising that Stagecoach wants to maintain this lucrative system, to the detriment of passengers, who pay higher fares for inferior services away from the capital.

Griffiths also makes a false comparison between free travel for bus passengers and free food at supermarkets. It is true, as he says, that the government does not ask Tesco to give pensioners free meals, but neither does Tesco ask for an annual subsidy of £2.5bn. Stagecoach and other private bus companies make their profits by playing the grant and subsidy system, not by taking risks and making innovations. On average, every bus that leaves the depot has a 50% public subsidy.

The sooner the whole of the country is allowed to benefit from franchising where competition takes place at the tender stage and not on the roads, where it causes congestion, the better. We can then stop having to listen to the self-interested bleatings of fat cats like Mr Griffiths.
Graham Stringer MP
Labour, Blackley and Broughton

• That the private finance initiative is discredited is a given, but Martin Griffiths uses a scatter-gun approach to make spurious accusations and illogical conclusions, one minute praising Ed Balls, the next bashing Labour and lefties. He then bleats, “for the risks we take, we get underpaid” – Griffiths’ salary is £2.2m per annum. It raises the question: how do we know the benefits of investment in railways are fairly distributed?

Griffiths says he believes that Labour’s rail plans are playing to the gallery rather than serious reforms: “They’re politicians. That’s what they do.” But until the question of land ownership is addressed by all political parties, there will not be a level playing field.

For example, Don Riley, a London property owner who owned buildings close to two of the stations being constructed for the extension of the Jubilee underground line, found in 2001 that, because of the taxpayers’ investments in that railway, he was being enriched without lifting a finger. By assessing the rise in properties around stations along the route south of the Thames, he discovered that landowners were enriched by about £13bn. This was three times more than the rail-building costs. Is that fair? The findings were confirmed by an expensive follow-up study sponsored by Transport for London.
Ed Drake
London

• Martin Griffiths says that Tesco could not hand out free food. Actually, considering the wasteful habits of supermarkets, their abuse of suppliers and the increasing population dependent on food banks, it’s a good idea. It is interesting the corporate world regards it as unthinkable.
Edward Coulson
Keighley, North Yorkshire

• George Monbiot (There is an alternative, 8 December) highlights the fact that limited liability is not a right but a remarkable gift given to companies’ shareholders, and that it could be withdrawn. A good place to start would be with those companies that pay their chief executives (or anyone) total remuneration exceeding, say, 30 times the company’s median wage.
David Harington
Worcester

Battle of Britain 70th anniversary
A Lancaster bomber and a Spitfire make a flypast over the national memorial, at Capel-le-Ferne, Kent, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. ‘The mythologised view of that war and our role in it is deeply corrosive, culturally and politically,’ writes Chris Donnison. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Geoffrey Wheatcroft (The myth of the good war, 9 December) argues that a distorted and sanitised view of the second world war has created a cult of the noble cause justifying 21st-century foreign adventures. However, it goes deeper than that. The mythologised view of that war and our role in it is deeply corrosive, culturally and politically. All our wars in the current and last century have become noble causes, while our numerous, brutal colonial conflicts are airbrushed despite some of the worst occurring since the second world war. It sustains not only disastrous foreign wars but also an oversized military, a parasitic weapons industry and a fragile national egotism that looks forever backwards.
Chris Donnison
Sheffield

• Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s differentiation between a “good” war and a “necessary” war was revealing but, from a personal perspective, his mentioning of the Italian campaign (most notably Anzio and Salerno – and the comparison with the Somme) resonated, and was unusual in that Italy is very rarely mentioned in any context at all.

My father, and many others, endured two opposed landings on those beaches, and I’m reminded of Lady Astor’s comments when she implied that the troops in Italy were “D-day dodgers”. I wonder what they must have thought of her as she pontificated in the Lords, all those hundreds of miles away. I have a good idea because, after my father died, in his papers, I came across a well-worn typewritten copy of a song to the tune of Lili Marleen. It seems to be a humorous riposte of about seven verses, but with a devastating ending.

It starts off: We are the “D-day dodgers out in Italy, Always drinking vino, always on the spree, and continues in that humorous vein for five more verses. But the final verse is: Look around the mountains through the mud and rain, You’ll find battered crosses, some which bear no name. Heartbreak and toil and suffering gone, The boys beneath them slumber on. They were the “D-day dodgers”, the lads that D-day dodged.

I’m not sure if my father, or any of them, thought that much about Lady Astor, or the intricacies of whether war was justified, or good or necessary. But I do know one thing: he was very glad to get home.
John Finnigan
Ormskirk, Lancashire

Espresso coffee cup
Let the Guardian’s Quick Crossword complete your coffee. Photograph: Alamy

So Anthony Sher would “be happy just playing Meryl Streep’s doorman” (Bring me my fat suit, G2, 10 December). In the 1990s I visited the Barbican and Anthony Sher held the door open for me. I was so starstruck I could only squeak, “thank you.” I wanted to ask him all kinds of questions and tell him how wonderful he was as Richard III, so now, via your pages, I can. Thank you.
Judi Lambeth
Welwyn, Hertfordshire

• “Today we are announcing our support for the creation of a new, independent College of Teaching that can drive the profession forwards, hoping to put it on an equal footing with other high status professions like … medicine and law” (Ministers answer calls for a College of Teaching, 9 December). Would this equal footing extend to salaries?
Mike Turner
Teddington, Middlesex

• Thank you for using product placement in the Quick crossword (10 December). It encouraged my wife and me to enjoy “a coffee-flavoured rum drink” (3-5) with our mid-morning espresso.
Bob Hargreaves
Bury, Lancashire

• I’m afraid Jim Perrin (Country diary, 6 December) is mistaken if he thinks he has found three-toed woodpeckers and pine grosbeaks in the French Pyrenees. Pine grosbeaks are birds of the north, the nearest being in Scandinavia. Although three-toed woodpeckers do nest in eastern France, they haven’t yet made it that far west. Crossbills and lesser spotted woodpeckers, perhaps? Love the “dram of Edradour” of the turtle doves, though.
Stephen Moss
Mark, Somerset

• Given that no other papers I saw reported that “43% of Britain’s homes were powered by wind last Sunday … a new record for the UK” (Report, 10 December), shouldn’t you have reported it as a scoop, not on p28?
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• Years ago I bought a badge on a street stall in York with the message: “1903 – Wilbur and Orville taught you to fly. 2003 – George and Tony fly you to torture” (Letters, 10 December). Succinct and unredacted.
Louise Summers
Oxford

Independent:

The decision by Yvette Cooper (Another Voice, 10 December) to support “Buffer Zones” around abortion clinics to prevent “harassment and intimidation” of women seeking abortions ignores the fact that “harassment and intimidation” is already illegal and the police have ample powers to deal with it should it occur.

The multi-million pound abortion industry makes frequent allegations of harassment and intimidation which are not supported by hard evidence. As a lawyer I have professional experience of this. I have advised pro-life prayer vigils which have been threatened with legal or police action regarding alleged harassment or intimidation. When the people who made the allegations were challenged to produce any evidence there was none.

The abortion industry is seeking to demonise peaceful and law-abiding protesters because some women are persuaded not to proceed with an abortion and instead seek the help and support that pro-life organisations offer. When that happens the abortion industry loses money, and that is the real reason they are seeking “buffer zones”.

Neil Addison

National Director, Thomas More Legal Centre, Liverpool

 

I was underwhelmed by the arguments of my Oxford contemporary Yvette Cooper. People are bound to be suspicious when the central question, “Are we talking about the ‘termination’ of a human being or not?”, is not even addressed.

If procedures are shocking, posters of them are bound to be shocking – that’s the fault of the procedure. And protesters are naturally going to film, so that their accusers can freely test the truth or otherwise of their many allegations.

Dr Christopher Shell

Hounslow, Middlesex

 

Yvette Cooper favours legislation to prevent “harassment and intimidation” of “staff on their way to work [who] have found themselves surrounded, filmed, and even prevented from entering premises”.

It is true that being “surrounded by a group of six protesters, barracking her and bombarding her with questions” could be “very distressing” for anyone and that “protesters have no idea what the personal circumstances are of those they are judging and harassing”.

Many would agree that staff should be “free from intimidation or abuse”.

When might we expect a Bill introducing “buffer zones” around relevant workplaces to prevent striking trade unionists from harassing those exercising their right to work?

John Fishley

London SE1

 

No judge of the modern workplace

Almost more shocking than the racial stereotyping implicit in Judge Terence Richard Peter Hollingworth’s remarks during the Preston procedural hearing (report, 8 December) was his lack of understanding of how difficult and stressful working-class life can be at the sharp end of employment.

It is often the case that, even in one of the “unimportant” jobs he assumed was Ms Patel’s, a demanding employer, of which there are many, can make it very difficult for an employee to take time off at short notice.  The judge’s failure to appreciate this basic fact of modern life makes him unfit to practise his profession without a compulsory course of “back to the shop floor” life experience.

Rosy Leigh

London W3

 

BBC on the centre ground

You are right to argue that, by irking those on the left as much as it does our right-wing tabloids, the BBC occupies some political centre ground (editorial, 10 December). And it could well be that the Murdoch press’s beef with it is principally commercial, for Murdoch detests competition in a free-market economy.

You could, though, have gone further; not least by pointing out that it’s  unedifying to witness a media group that hacks the phone of a murdered schoolgirl pretending to occupy a moral high ground.

There is more. George Osborne, for whose extreme neoliberal politics very few voted, bridles at the perfectly defensible representation of his projected economic policies returning us to a version of Dickensian Britain. The inference is that the BBC should descend to the broadcasting of propaganda.

The Sun and Mail are as utterly intolerant of the expression of political views other than their own, and this informs their own attacks on the BBC. Their abuse of their position to promote powerful vested interests has the potential to be very harmful to what little democracy we have in this country.

Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire

 

Thought police nab a chatty scientist

I had the good fortune to be introduced to James Watson by my favourite physics teacher, Richard Feynman, when I was a young PhD student in X-ray crystallography. Feynman was almost as big a tease as Watson –  entertaining Cal Tech visitors in girlie bars – and I was assumed to be a fellow lunatic.

Watson sent up any pompous git who crossed his path, and there were plenty of those in the groves of academe, but his teasing could sometimes verge on perilous territory.

In the end Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe, a former student, did for him by writing up some chatty suggestions that race and intelligence might be linked (“A human riddle wrapped in a DNA double helix”, 6 December).

Since science has no agreed-upon definition of “race” or “intelligence” he was hardly making a serious statement, but in today’s fetid atmosphere the thought-police at last had their man.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

 

Food giant’s abuse of power

The actions of Premier Foods as revealed in the Newsnight investigation into “pay and stay” payments are dispiriting and morally questionable.

All local and independent suppliers are small or at best medium-sized businesses. Premier Foods is not. To use its superior market position in this manner is an abuse of power, if not in law, then in spirit.

Agriculture and the food supply chain are fragile enough in this country at a time when this sector is going to be asked to produce a lot more with less, as well as maintaining  our countryside for everyone’s benefit.

Buying from local producers and farmers is not just an act of convenience for large corporations or a fad for middle-class foodies but an investment in the secure future of this country’s food supply and agriculture. Premier Foods and its like can come and go according to the whims of its investors and shareholders. Farmers cannot and must not.

Ed Martin

Hadlow, Kent

 

I am surprised that you quote a retail expert (6 December) as saying that the conduct of Premier Foods in requiring supplier payments to retain their status is lawful. I thought that the abuse of a dominant market position was a fundamental breach of EU anti-trust law.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey

 

The purpose of bouncers

Ramji Abinashi is mistaken when he says that bouncers in cricket are intended to hurt (letter, 8 December). They are primarily used, sparingly and within the laws, to get a batsman out by exposing any weakness in technique – such as giving a catch through an inability to keep the ball down, or failure to protect his wicket when facing subsequent deliveries.

The freak accident which brought about the death of Phil Hughes would not have been prevented by a red card system; though cricket lovers everywhere will now expect existing laws governing intimidatory bowling to be enforced consistently and at all levels of ability.

Malcolm Watson

Welford, Berkshire

 

No right to free IVF

Knowing as I do the pain of being unable to father children you may be surprised that I wholeheartedly agree with Margaret Morrison and Colin Howson’s views on IVF being available for free on the NHS (letter, 10 December).

Infertility is not a disease, nor are children an essential part of an otherwise healthy adult’s life in an already overpopulated world. It wouldn’t be a vote-winner but I strongly feel the Government should abolish free IVF, which would ease the burden a little on an apparently overstretched NHS.

Name and Address Supplied

 

Christmas spirit of money-making

Three normal Christmas cards – two to Ireland, one to Canada – £4.59 in postage. Scrooge is alive and well and has taken over the Royal Mail. I pity the poor souls running the individual post offices who are seeing their business rapidly being priced out of the market.

Ian Bartlett

East Molesey, Surrey

Times:

Sir, The report commissioned by the Medical Schools Council which concluded that half of schools in Britain failed to send a single pupil to study medicine is well analysed by your education editor (Dec 10). The only sensible conclusion one can form is that there seems to be a complete lack of understanding of the nature of the problem or of its very serious nature.

There are more than 88,000 applicants each year for only 8,000 places. These students are all high quality and well motivated. What would be the point of more schools taking part, perhaps doubling the number of applicants who would later be rejected? More importantly, when will we see the end of there being too few places in our medical schools, given that it is perpetuating a situation in which we have a chronic shortage of doctors at the same time as a large number of people reaching retirement age.
Clive Hooper
Wroughton, Wilts

Sir, The Sutton Trust welcomes the Medical Schools Council’s recognition that more must be done to improve access to a career in medicine for students from low and middle-income backgrounds. This year we launched a pilot programme with Imperial College London that will take practical steps to increase the numbers of students from low and middle-income families applying to study medicine. It will reach 180 students over three years, offering them the support and information they need to compete with those from affluent backgrounds. The Pathways to Medicine programme includes help with interviews and applications, work experience and a one-week summer school where students get the chance to take part in hands-on experiments and medical seminars.

We hope this kind of practical support for low and middle-income students, together with a contextual approach to admissions, will radically alter the composition of our medical schools, making the profession accessible to all based on merit rather than money.
Sir Peter Lampl
Chairman, The Sutton Trust

Sir, The shortage of doctors and nurses in this country does no credit to any recent government. It has been official policy to rely upon imported doctors for some years now — imported from countries that can ill-afford to see them go. That, and the cutback in training places, has meant that we are now finding it difficult to find doctors to fill consultant posts and to become GPs.

In nursing the position is as bad. There is no shortage of people wanting to do nursing — simply a lack of training places, with the consequence that we rely on agency nurses from the Philippines and Portugal to staff our wards.

Our excellent school of nursing has been closed, the internationally renowned Nightingale School of Nursing is a shadow of its former self, amalgamated in the name of “efficiency savings”, as have been so many medical schools.

Nursing is an advanced life skill and communities need trained nurses to function properly — to help to look after people at the extremes of age, or who have left hospital, or to provide advice over smaller medical problems (so that people don’t need to go to A&E).

It costs society far more not to have doctors and nurses than it does to train them.
Dr JA Lack
Coombe Bissett, Wilts

Sir, It is not just a question of broadening intake for medicine, but of creating more training places for doctors, midwives, nurses and other health personnel. It is a false economy to attempt to shore up the NHS with imported staff, which plays into the hands of Ukip.

Successive governments and health leaders have constantly lamented staff shortages in the NHS, but it has been nobody’s fault but their own. If there were more places then the entry conditions need not be quite so harsh, (and also less arbitrary). Urgent steps should be taken by the coalition so that we become self sufficient in this precious commodity.
Julia Doherty

Winchelsea, E Sussex

Sir, Let me be unequivocal: no proposal to merge the catering services of the two Houses has ever been put to the House of Lords by the House of Commons, despite what Carol Midgley says in her article on the Lords catering service (Dec 10). The joint champagne procurement that Sir Malcolm Jack was referring to in evidence to the House of Commons governance committee was more than a decade ago. Since that time we have established a joint procurement service which is seeking even better value for the taxpayer.

Ms Midgley makes much of the number of bottles of champagne sold by the Lords, saying that, “since 2010 the House of Lords has spent £265,700 on 17,000 bottles of fizz — enough for the 788 members to drink 20 bottles each.” In the last financial year, 57 per cent of all champagne sold was in connection with receptions and dinners, usually organised by external bodies, and 30 per cent through our giftshop. This leaves 13 per cent sold through refreshment outlets. All alcohol sold in the Lords is sold at a profit, which has helped to reduce the cost of the catering service by 27 per cent since 2007-08.
Lord Sewel
Chairman of Committees, House of Lords

Sir, Dr Michael Cullen (letter, Dec 9) may well be quite right to point out how limited are the artefacts of Great Britain. However, we do have to my mind probably the greatest artefacts of all, and they reside close to where Dr Cullen lives. The Ashmolean Museum has five platonic solids which were found in Orkney in a Neolithic burial mound. They are stone geometric shapes, about marble size, depicting each of the Platonic Solids. They can only have been used for teaching geometry and maths of a high degree. They show that the society in Scotland and farther north was very advanced indeed. They existed thousands of years before Plato wrote about them. To understand how the platonic solids work is to understand a great deal, and in Orkney they did.
Edward Williams

Poole, Dorset

Sir, In view of the recent fall in the price of crude oil, it is odd that there has not been a corresponding reduction in the price of domestic gas and electricity. Previous increases in the price of domestic fuel, we were told, were caused by increased crude oil price because they were linked. It would seem the link is only one way.
K Miller
Plymstock, Devon

Sir, At a time when the return to the standard of public services enjoyed in the era of The Road to Wigan Pier appears a real possibility, I read with interest the attempt by David Aaronovitch (Opinion, Dec 11) to redefine the parameters of private profit and public investment in respect of the NHS.

If a contracted service provider owes their ultimate allegiance to any profit motive, a service has been privatised. Conversely, if a contracted service provider owes their ultimate allegiance to the public this is public enterprise, carried out for the good of the greatest number of people.

Any attempt to argue otherwise can only be described as Orwellian, and a road back to the 1930s. As far as the NHS is concerned, it seems to me a case of “public investment good, private profit bad”.
CNA Williams

Trowbridge, Wilts

Telegraph:

NHS managers' standards set after Mid-Staffs

NHS expenditure on managmeent consultants has doubled under the Coalition Photo: ALAMY

SIR – Professor David Oliver is right to highlight the scandalous expenditure by the NHS on management consultants.

As a non-executive director and audit chairman of an acute NHS Trust I was shocked by the inability of NHS management to “manage” without the support of highly remunerated and unaccountable management consultants. It is an embedded culture and all of those to whom NHS Trusts report, including the senior officials at the Department of Health, must take responsibility.

In the case of my own Trust I voted against a £6 million contract for management consultants, and eventually resigned.

Robert Smart
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – The interventions of expert management consulting firms mean that many NHS institutions have cut their costs, responded effectively to rising demand and introduced changes that improve patient care. Consultancies have also assisted the change to new structures and political priorities.

Engaging this outside support when it is needed is a sign of good sense. One recent consulting project delivered recurrent annual savings of over £50 million. The NHS should draw on the best available skills, insights and knowledge in order to do its job most effectively.

Alan Leaman
CEO, Management Consultancies Association
London EC3

SIR – If NHS management need to employ management consultants to help them do their jobs, why do we not appoint managers who are capable of doing the job for themselves?

Grenville Morgan
Sheffield, South Yorkshire

SIR – When I worked for the businessman Sir Arnold Weinstock, he maintained that you could hire management consultants any time you wanted – but your resignation had to accompany the request.

Keith Appleyard
West Wickham, Kent

SIR – The Patients Association is right to highlight the deficiencies of the NHS ombudsman.

However, failings in care are hard to address when tens of thousands of health professionals, including those who conduct vital tests on patients, remain outside proper regulation and oversight. Their work has the potential to cause serious harm, but the health service lacks the means to rid itself of incompetent practitioners. Nor are these professionals subject to the NHS’s new duty of candour.

Amanda Casey
Chairman, Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists
Lichfield, Staffordshire

London’s air pollution

Photo: Alamy

SIR – The Mayor of Paris’s decision to ban diesel cars by 2020 is encouraging. Here in London, air pollution is responsible for around 4,000 premature deaths annually, and diesel – which was sold as an environmental solution – is a major cause.

In the City of London we have prohibited engine idling and introduced a 20mph speed limit to help improve air quality. These measures support the Mayor of London’s reform proposals but we still need to do more to reduce pollution from diesel vehicles. In particular, government funding is urgently needed to finance the replacement of diesel taxis with cleaner models.

Wendy Mead
Chairman, Environment Committee
City of London Corporation
London EC2

Don’t cap police bail

SIR – When police bail was introduced, more than 30 years ago, I was a serving officer. The police had time to investigate crimes and, on the whole, this system was not abused.

Thirty years on, the thin blue line has been stretched beyond all recognition. The rise of internet crime, mobile phones, 24-hour media, the Crown Prosecution Service, new legislation and regulation, incessant demand for statistics, targets and political interference mean that the police no longer have the time to do everything required of them. This is at the heart of police inquiries often not being completed on time.

The danger in restricting police bail to 28 days is that many thousands of criminals will walk free. Career criminals will say nothing or send the police on false errands knowing they will be bailed for further inquiries to be made and the officers won’t have sufficient time to investigate.

The answer lies in freeing police officers from the endless red tape that prevents them from focusing on investigating crime.

Nick Hazelton
Poole, Dorset

Recovery under threat

SIR – It is not just households that may be hard-hit by rising interest rates, but many thousands of businesses as well.

Companies across Britain are investing again, after an unprecedented period of retrenchment. Premature rate rises would mean fewer new jobs, less training, less new equipment and less investment in premises at companies across Britain.

While the Bank of England ponders the threat early rate rises pose to households, and Westminster politicians are desperate to keep rates at rock-bottom for voters ahead of next year’s election, both would do well to remember that low rates also remain essential to the business growth and investment they are so keen to foster.

John Longworth
Director General, British Chambers of Commerce
London SE1

Cocksure minister should brush up on grammar

Photo: Alamy

SIR – Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative minister, is mistaken when she refers to the word cock as being an abbreviation of cockerel.

Cockerel is in fact the diminutive form and describes an immature male domestic fowl up to the age of about six months, when it will generally begin to crow and become a mature cock. Sniggering at this double entendre belongs in the playground and I am sure that your readers, without being cocksure about it, will use the word in the correct context and cock a snook at those who are unable to take the English language seriously.

Major John Carter (retd)
Bream, Gloucestershire

Early cancer diagnosis

SIR – While we welcome the news that more people are surviving cancer than ever before, it is too soon to be celebrating any success, particularly since ovarian cancer remains overlooked.

Currently 43 per cent of women with ovarian cancer survive for five years or more, yet 90 per cent would survive the same period if diagnosed at the earliest stage. Shockingly, a third of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed in A&E, and more than 1,000 women every year die within two months of diagnosis. If we were to match the best survival rates in Europe, 500 lives would be saved every year.

It is imperative that current and future governments continue to prioritise improvements in the early diagnosis and successful treatment of all cancers, including ovarian.

Alexandra Holden
Director of Communications, Target Ovarian Cancer
London EC1

Driving out stereotypes

SIR – Erin Baker’s description of women drivers is complete balderdash.

Having taught more than 1,000 male and female drivers in the past two decades, I can say without doubt that the standard of driving for both sexes is equal in terms of car control and general attitude.

On the several occasions that I, while conducting a driving lesson, have encountered cars travelling the wrong way across roundabouts, the offending driver has always been male.

I also find that most female learner drivers are rather more proficient at parallel parking than their male colleagues.

Russell Jones
Bingham, Nottinghamshire

Wheelchair users can’t rely on people’s goodwill

SIR – The general public display little common sense or goodwill when they refuse to move a buggy so that a wheelchair user can find room on a bus. Neither does good sense prevail in the use of lavatory facilities.

I had to wait yesterday at the Nottingham Concert Hall, because one disabled lavatory was being used as a baby-changing facility and the other was occupied. The lady who eventually came out wasn’t disabled and my wife heard her tell her friend that she couldn’t see why she shouldn’t use the lavatory if there wasn’t a disabled person waiting.

Steve Cattell
Hougham, Lincolnshire

SIR – We have all had to wait for a bus, after not getting on the first, but most of us were not awarded £5,500 as a consequence. What about the rights of the mother and her sleeping baby? What about the fare-paying, able-bodied passengers? Should bus companies be able to turf off a passenger, who has already paid his fare, in order to make way for a wheelchair user?

In this instance the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the ruling was eminently sensible.

John Clarke
Stourbridge, West Midlands

SIR – Most laws are made because the “good sense” of the people cannot be relied upon. To leave a wheelchair user to the raw weather when a pushchair can be folded up to make room is despicable.

Maureen Maddock
Fulford, York

SIR – Public transport should be easily available to all, so surely there should be provision on all buses for both wheelchair users and parents with buggies.

I can remember being left in tears at a remote bus stop some years ago, after the conductor refused to take me plus buggy and baby on his bus, which had very few passengers.

Lesley Bright
Haywards Heath, West Sussex

A shining example

SIR – Having read Ken Wortelhock’s letter, it seems that the success of our 43-year marriage could be due to the fact that my husband diligently winds our Christmas tree lights around a piece of card every January, so that we unravel them easily each year.

Anne Cotton
Bath, Somerset

Rule Bird-tannia

Photo: Alamy

SIR – Mike Elliott asks for suggestions for a national bird for Britain.

Surely the robin would be the obvious choice. It is friendly, can appear puffed up at times, enjoys spending time in the garden, but is brave and willing to fight to the death when its territory is threatened.

Frances Williams
Swindon, Wiltshire

SIR – Perhaps a budgie would be appropriate. These days most of the nation seems to spend its time tweeting, “who’s a pretty boy, then?”

Elizabeth Davy
Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria

Irish Times:

Sir, – We need a deeper understanding of why some care staff behaved as presented on RTÉ’s Prime Time on Tuesday night. When the Ryan report on child abuse was published in 2009, our national conversation seemed to blame the religious congregations, instead of the dehumanising effect of large residential settings.

Although there are many kind staff, there is no such thing as a good large residential setting for people with intellectual disabilities. No amount of training, resources, investigations or inspections will ever change a culture in which people can be treated as less than human. No one would want to live in an institution. No one would choose to live apart from his or her loved ones and away from neighbours. So why are institutions good enough for 3,700 of our most vulnerable citizens? The only answer is institutional closure. Then the work of social inclusion may begin. – Yours, etc,

Dr BRIAN McCLEAN,

Senior Clinical Psychologist,

Athlone,

Co Roscommon.

Sir, – Your newspaper quotes HSE director general Tony O’Brien: “Much of what was viewed on Prime Time falls well below the standards that we expect in the health services. Such standards should not and will not be tolerated in the HSE” (“HSE issues apology over Áras Attracta mistreatment”, December 10th).

The irony is not lost on some of us. While the head of the organisation responsible for health provision in the State is rightly indignant about what happened to vulnerable citizens with a learning disability in Co Mayo, that same organisation continues to preside over a system whereby medically ill, vulnerable children as young as 15 and below are being wrongly “housed” in adult psychiatric hospitals even as we speak. One can’t help wondering if the children would be treated differently if the hospitals were located beside the Dáil? – Yours, etc,

Dr KIERAN MOORE,

Consultant Child

and Adolescent Psychiatrist,

Ros Mhic Triúin,

Co Chill Cheannaigh.

Sir, – In 2010 the McCoy report into the abuse of intellectually impaired people in a Brothers of Charity institution was published. This was after an almost 10-year fight by myself to uncover the awful regime there. McCoy did not go further than describing the abuses. I fought to have further investigations but to no avail.

This is what happens in Ireland – first the “scandal”, then the inquiry (a description of what happened), finally the report, and then nothing.

Unless there is a root-and-branch reform of the cultural ethos within such residences, we will see more such instances of abuse. – Yours, etc,

Dr MARGARET KENNEDY,

Greystones,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Surely if bank workers and shop workers are filmed while at work, the same should be done in care units and homes to protect those who cannot speak for themselves from being victims of the same horrific abuse of power. – Yours, etc,

HAZEL McNAMEE,

South Circular Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir,–RTÉ is to be congratulated and deserves our gratitude for bringing to light this terrible abuse. – Yous, etc,

PAUL DELANEY,

Dalkey,

Co Dublin.

Members of the council are shocked and saddened by the contents of the documentary and are ashamed to contemplate that nurses were associated with the care provision in Unit 3 as outlined by the programme.

While it was acknowledged that there were examples of good practice in Áras Attracta, the most shocking aspect was the scale and nature of the abusive practices which were perpetrated and in which others were complicit by their refusal to intervene. The documentary portrayed scenes of vulnerable female residents being force-fed, roughly handled, and compelled to stay in chairs for extensive times. The casual and seemingly routine nature of the abusive care appeared to be an endemic part of the culture within Unit 3.

This documentary provides visual confirmation that the systems designed to protect vulnerable individuals have failed. The report challenges us to reflect on methods used to date in the education of healthcare professionals and in particular to focus on the caring, nurturing and safeguarding role of the nurse in the care of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Perhaps most importantly consideration needs to be given to the approaches used to support individuals to report or whistleblow on instances of poor care provision, misconduct and disrespect that they witness in clinical settings. In addition, within schools of nursing and midwifery we are committed to ensuring that nurses recognise that they are failing in their role if they do not report instances of poor care provision, misconduct or disrespect that they witness in clinical settings.

The council is willing to engage with any official inquiry to explore what can be improved in the education, training and continuous professional development of healthcare professionals and to assist in the process of informing how to move forward in terms of education, research and utilisation of future technologies. – Yours, etc,

Prof JOSEPHINE

HEGARTY,

Chairwoman,

Irish Council of Professors,

Deans and Heads of Nursing

and Midwifery,

University College Cork.

Sir, – I was and still am extremely shocked and upset by what I saw on the Prime Time programme. I am an occupational therapist and have worked in the profession for over 40 years. During that time I have worked in various settings, and more recently I have worked with adults with intellectual disabilities who live in communal houses, as well as in day centres where clients live at home but attend activity-based programmes.

The one issue that has struck me as an occupational therapist is that in most, but not all, of these settings, there is a lack of meaningful occupation for both staff and residents. As humans, occupation is a basic need. In many places, day programmes are set in place, whether leisure activities or work-based activities, which give meaning to both staff and residents.

There are activities which can be carried out, whether supported, assisted or adapted to match the needs and abilities of the residents or clients.

Over the past several years, occupational therapists have been unable to find work in this country. Members of the profession have a valuable contribution to make to the care and welfare of this client group. – Yours, etc,

VALERIE CRIBBIN,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I joined the protest in Dublin yesterday, the first I’ve ever attended. I did so not because I object to paying for water – I understand that the investment has to be made, though I cannot fathom why it was not done during the years when we told that we had more money than we were able to spend – but because the Government, in allowing Irish Water to be set up as it was, gave us, their fellow citizens, two fingers. For me, the Irish Water charge is not so much a tax too many as an insult too many. I also wanted to show that, notwithstanding the ravings of Fine Gael backwoodsmen, protesters are not necessarily loony leftists or dupes of some sinister fringe. I experienced a peaceful, positive and very enjoyable event and I’m looking forward to the next one. – Yours, etc,

MAEVE KENNEDY,

Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Sir , – The leaders of the various “can’t pay – won’t pay” water charges factions assure the Irish people on an extremely regular basis that “hundreds of thousands” of citizens will not be paying water charges under any circumstances. Strange then that a significant proportion of these people pay to the government on a voluntary basis large amounts of VAT on non-essential and luxurious items (particularly at Christmas time). Similarly large numbers also voluntarily pay staggeringly large amounts of money on a daily basis in respect of alcohol and tobacco. Peculiar then that they are so reluctant to pay a few cent per day for the life-giving water that is delivered to their homes. This surely demonstrates that the behaviour of the “can’t pay – won’t pay” brigade is unthinking , irrational and bizarre and it must be a cause for concern that so many people can be so easily led. – Yours, etc,

HUGH PIERCE,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Huge questions remain regarding the years of neglecting the national water infrastructure and a pricing regime that doesn’t actually discourage wasteful use of a precious resource. On the question of free water, however, the anti-water charges protest movement should get its facts straight. Free water is not a human right – affordable water is. The right to water is not specifically mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as adopted by the UN general assembly in 1948. However, various resolutions since then, such as resolution 64/292 of 2010, explicitly recognise the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledge that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The right to water has also been defined by the UN as “the right of everyone to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses”.

Affordable, not free. – Yours, etc,

VINCENT HIBBERT,

Inchicore,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – The very fact that the capital city was brought to a standstill 15 days before Christmas is an absolute disgrace. There was absolutely no reason to blockade O’Connell Street. – Yours, etc,

GARY HONER,

Rialto, Dublin 8.

Sir, – What struck me about the water protest was the sheer volume of gardaí on duty. The entire length of Kildare Street, the western side of Merrion Square and part of Molesworth Street were cordoned off by barriers, preventing any access by the citizenry to these public streets of the capital city. If the streets had been free for people to traverse, the protest would have been over many hours earlier. It revealed a bunker mentality by a fearful Government that is driving a bigger wedge daily between itself and the citizens of Ireland. – Yours, etc,

MAURICE

O’CALLAGHAN,

Stillorgan, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The best of luck to the JD Wetherspoon pub chain in its attempt to introduce genuine competition to the Irish pub scene (“Weatherspoon axes Heineken after Dún Laoghaire pub row”, Business, December 10th) It seems their refusal to slap a few extra euro on the price of a pint has not gone down well with the established players.

The native licensed trade will no doubt be cheering on “Big Beer” from the sidelines. The last thing it needs is some brash upstart threatening its carefully engineered cartel in the run-up to Christmas. But this challenge is long overdue. While some Irish pubs have raised their game in recent years, many cling stubbornly to a losing formula of a limited beer range sold at extortionate prices, with the backing track of televised soccer on every wall. Throw in a 19th-century licensing system that effectively operates as a high wall around the existing trade – and the reform of which publicans have fought tooth and nail against – and it is easy to find oneself rooting for the underdog.

Solely in the interest of ensuring your readers are accurately informed, I have visited Wetherspoon’s first such pub in Blackrock and can confirm it is a very pleasant establishment with reasonably priced food and drink, attentive staff and a refreshing absence of televised sport or screeching pop music. – Yours, etc,

PHILIP DONNELLY,

Clane, Co Kildare.

Sir, – I refer to your article “Digicel warns of scaling back in the Caribbean” (December 9th), which displays a serious lack of understanding of the telecommunications landscape in that region and also arrives at several misplaced conclusions.

Digicel chose not to acquire Columbus Communication because we did not believe it was worth in excess of $2 billion. Cable & Wireless Communications are proposing to pay over $3 billion for the business which we believe is excessive – but that is their business. The real issue, however, is that unlike Digicel, which is predominantly in the mobile space, Cable & Wireless Communications and Columbus combined will result in several monopolies in their overlap markets.

As is the case with any transaction which will result in monopolies or virtual monopolies, this proposed transaction needs to be very carefully examined by the relevant regulators and appropriate measures taken to ensure that there is no abuse of the pro-forma monopolies which will be created in six countries. Indeed this has been recognised by the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority, which stated last Friday that, “In the review of the proposed merger the ministers noted that potential new scenarios will emerge where monopolies or near monopolies will exist in the provision of fixed network services which will have an impact on both residential and business consumers.”

Your statement that we “would also have had a stranglehold on certain segments of the market in the region, instead of CWC” is simply not true. It is also wrong for you to conclude that we need time to “formulate a strategy to respond” to the proposed transaction. Our strategy remains unchanged. What we do want to ensure is that the appropriate consumer and industry protections are put in place so that we can pursue that strategy in the knowledge that there will be a level playing field for new entrants like ourselves. – Yours, etc,

COLM DELVES

Group Chief Executive

Officer, Digicel Group .

Sir, – I always look forward to reading Conor Pope. However, I was more than dismayed by his piece on how to do “Christmas on the cheap” (December 8th). He certainly gets the cheap bit right but in very much the wrong way when he advises readers to “ditch the cards and you could knock €50 off the spend” and suggests we use Facebook, Twitter email or whatever to replace them.

At Christmas, if you really want to know who your real friends are, they are the people who will select a card, sign it and stamp it to make sure you get it. Costly, yes, but if anyone sends me an electronic message, off my list they go! I’ll find some other way to save €50 but not at the expense of good tradition and the personal touch. No silly hashtags or LOLs. – Yours, etc,

JOHN DONNELLY,

Ballinrobe,

Co Mayo.

Sir, – I am a bit dismayed by the latest weather soundbite “weatherbomb”. I really hope that every winter storm doesn’t become one such bomb – much like every time the temperature creeps above 23 Celsius we have a “phew, what a scorcher” or conversely when the temperature drops a bit we get a “beast from the east”. – Yours, etc,

Prof PETE COXON,

Department of Geography,

Trinity College Dublin.

Sir, – I believe that the only sensible way for Ireland to move forward economically, and thus socially, is for the old Civil War enemies of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to unite. Going by current opinion polls, they would not have the numbers in the Dáil following the next election to form a government and would need support from some remnants of Labour and reasonable Independents.

The alternative is mayhem. – Yours, etc,

NICK STRONG,

Glin, Co Limerick.

A chara, – An historic moment indeed for Co Tyrone and congratulations to Róisín Jordan (“Tyrone set to make history”, December 9th). However Róisín will not be the first female county chair in the history of the GAA. That historic first goes to Co Europe and Eileen Jennings, who was our county chairwoman in 2007. – Is mise,

CIARÁN Mac GUILL,

Cisteoir (2004 – 2010),

European County

Board GAA,

Clichy, France.

Irish Independent:

Isn’t it time the “silent majority” reclaimed the streets?

I listened to various RTE reporters and presenters discussing the numbers of protesters on the streets for Wednesday’s marches against water charges.

It ranged from 30,000, to in excess of 30,000, to between 50,000 and 100,000. The Gardai said about 30,000, or just in excess of that figure. To my mind, there is a very big difference between 30,000 and 100,000.

I didn’t hear any of the presenters/reporters disagree with the figures – or even refer back to previous claims by well-know socialist politicians that the turnout would be close to double the size of the previous demonstration (200,000?/300,000?).

Excuses are now being made that the day was cold and wet, it was too close to Christmas, or that it was a work day and workers could not get time off.

Why wasn’t it held next Saturday then?

I am a pensioner and I sent back my forms before the end of October, as did my two daughters, who are both in rented accommodation and low-paid jobs. One million others also apparently sent the forms back.

To my way of thinking, 30,000 or 50,000 are a very small percentage of a million people.

I don’t want to pay any more taxes or charges, I am finding it difficult. The water system in the country is a mess and it needs repair/replacement. How can it be done without raising additional monies to do it? If the water charges don’t happen then our taxes will increase. And who is going to pay those? Yes, “the already hard-pressed middle” – i.e. the majority of hard-working Irish people. These taxes will, in my view, be higher. And, like the property tax, will be enforced by the Revenue and therefore impossible to avoid.

What can/will the combined forces of Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, the Socialist Party and other various TDs sharing a similar outlook do for us if they achieve power? I shudder to think.

I don’t think the present Government have covered themselves in glory, but are they the best of a bad lot?

So come on the ‘silent majority’, let’s reclaim our streets and our country.

Name and address with editor

Irishmen and Irishwomen:

I travelled to Dublin to attend Wednesday’s water protest. I brought with me a large copy of The Proclamation of the Republic, which a friend had given me several years ago.

I consider ‘The Proclamation’ Ireland’s most valuable document, even more important than the Constitution itself. My reason for making it my banner of protest was the following lines:

“The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally”.

The words you have just read were written almost a century ago by honourable courageous men who looked at a shackled Ireland and said “No more”. Those men looked into our future and the future of their own descendants. To protect us from those who would harm us they entered those three or four lines into the Proclamation.

Enda Kenny, Joan Burton and Alan Kelly pass our proclamation each day in Dail Eireann, but they surely cannot have read it. For if they had they would know that what they are doing to the Irish people is nothing short of treason. While our ordinary people struggle to put food on the table our Government politicians, on bloated salaries in the Dail, dictate to us about how we should all put our shoulders to the wheel for the sake of the nation.

I marched in Dublin, along with thousands of men, women and children from all over our island. And, as I looked around me, I heard those words from the Proclamation ringing in my ears. I felt proud, proud that we were standing up, and that 100 years later we were saying to our aggressors: “No more”. No more to your austerity, no more to your bully-boy tactics and no more to your bloody water tax.

That evening, after I returned home, my young son asked me why I had gone to the protest. I told him I went there to protect his rights and his future, for he is also one of the cherished children of the nation mentioned in Ireland’s proclamation.

Barney O’Keeffe

The Curragh, Co Kildare

A pint of order

I want to wish the JD Wetherspoon pub chain the best of luck in its attempt to introduce genuine competition to the Irish pub scene.

It seems their refusal to join in the ancient Irish tradition of putting the bite on pub-goers by slapping a few extra euro onto the cost of a pint has not gone down well with all the established players.

The native licensed trade will, no doubt, be cheering on Big Beer from the sidelines. The last thing they need is some brash upstart threatening their trade in the run up to Christmas.

But this challenge is long overdue. While some Irish pubs have raised their game in recent years, many cling stubbornly to a losing formula of a limited beer range sold at extortionate prices, with a backing track of televised soccer on every wall.

Throw in a 19th-century licensing system that effectively operates as a high wall around the existing trade – and the reform of which publicans have fought tooth and nail against – and it is easy to find oneself rooting for the underdog in this fight.

Solely in the interest of ensuring your readers are accurately informed, I have visited Wetherspoon’s first such pub in Blackrock. I can confirm it is a very pleasant establishment, with reasonably priced food and drink, attentive staff and a refreshing absence of televised sport or screeching pop music.

Philip Donnelly

Clane, Co Kildare

Aras Attracta

As a woman who has worked as a Prison Officer for nearly 30 years I have been subjected to both verbal and physical assaults in my daily working life. This abuse is to be expected in such an environment. As such I have learnt to both ignore verbal abuse and how to protect myself from the physical abuse. The ethos of the Prison Service is to provide “safe and secure custody of its inmates” whilst also protecting its staff.

Having watched the ‘Prime Time Investigates’ programme (December 9) on the abuse and assaults perpetrated by staff on non-verbal service users, I am compelled to write to express my utter horror and disgust.

These vulnerable patients were treated worse than criminals, and I only hope that the families of these poor women will bring assault charges against the responsible staff and that justice will be served upon them with a prison stay.

I would call upon the minister to order CCTV to be installed in all similar institutions, as has been done within the Prison Service. These cameras protect both staff and inmates. If people have nothing to hide then there can be no objection.

Name and address with editor

Irish Independent


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